Love Language Quiz

Love Language Quiz

What's Your Love Language?

Understanding love languages – and acting accordingly – can change everything in a relationship for the better. Learn more here!

Love Language Quiz

The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast with Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

Music Credits: “You Bring Me Home” by The Sudden Leaves

Love Language Quiz

As a marriage counselor, couples therapist, and relationship coach, I’m always working with couples who are seeking to make positive changes in their relationships. Sometimes, the reasons why couples have conflict go deep, but honestly, you’d be amazed at how often couples discover that the thing causing hurt feelings, emotional disconnection, or resentment in their relationship is actually NOT a difficult-to-resolve relationship issue. It’s the fact that they don’t understand each other’s love language and that, my friends, is a solvable problem.

Once couples connect the dots, gain an appreciation for each other’s love language, and start showing each other love and respect in different ways…everything changes: Toxic relationship patterns start to unwind, withdrawn partners start to open up, anger fades, and the path forward emerges. All by learning each other’s love language! 

Understanding Love Languages

I’ve seen couples come into counseling feeling very discouraged about their relationship, even to the point where they wonder if they’re in a compatible relationship or whether it’s time to call it quits. They talk about how frustrated they feel with their partner; how the walls between them feel insurmountable. So, when I invite them to take a love language quiz and think, “What’s my love language?” and “What is my partner’s love language?” they can feel skeptical at first. I mean, love languages? Aren’t our problems much more serious? Could it really be that easy? 

Actually, yes. A big piece of repairing a relationship is often that easy, but no one would fault you for dismissing the idea as superficial unless you really understood the significance of it. The idea of “love languages” has been batted around as a pop-psychology term to the point that the full power and significance behind these ideas is lost. When you actually take a deeper look into what love languages are, and what they’re attached to, you’ll understand that they are quite significant. 

Love Languages Go Deep

Much has been made about attachment styles in relationships: how we perceive others, how we show up in relationships, and what our patterns are. Less commonly discussed are more subtle realities around what we were taught about love: what love is, what it means, and what it looks like in action. These messages about what love “should” be are not taught to us explicitly, but we pick them up nonetheless — through every interaction we have with the people we’re attached to growing up.

These messages are subconscious and, as adults, we may not realize we carry a firmly established set of ideas about what love “should” look like. It’s even more difficult to realize that our partner carries their ideas about love as well – ideas that are different from ours (given the fact that they grew up in a different family, with different messages and relationship expectations). 

Virtually all couples who have not done intentional growth work in this area have subconscious expectations of what being loved and cared for should look like in action. Since we are not partnered with a clone of ourselves (thankfully!), it's incredibly easy to show each other love in the ways most natural and pleasing to us without fully realizing that these efforts are falling flat — or even causing painful conflict. This can lead to power struggles, a lack of emotional safety, blaming each other for relationship problems, and more.

Learn to Speak Each Other’s Love Language

We’ve all heard of the golden rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do for you.” However, when it comes to having great relationships, that’s actually not the whole truth. There’s a platinum rule of relationships, “Do unto others as they would like you to do.” Meaning that we need to sensitively show love, care, respect, and affection to our partners in the ways that are actually most meaningful to them, not necessarily to us. 

(More on the 12 biggest relationship mistakes, right here, if you’re interested.) 

But now we have a new problem: How to know your love language so that you can help your partner understand you better and show you love in the way that you can experience. Furthermore, it’s hard enough to get clarity around your own love language and ask for what you need. How do you figure out your partner’s love language and understand what they’re needing from you? 

Love Language Test For Couples!

That, my friend, is what we’re doing on today’s podcast: Love Languages Quiz. I’m going to be giving you insight into what the core needs are of the different “love language styles” so that you really understand yourself and your partner better. Then, I’ll be walking you through some questions (my informal “love language test” that will help you both know how to figure out your love language. With that understanding, it will be much easier to meet each other’s needs in a relationship, connect with your partner, have empathy for each other, communicate, and strengthen your relationship

Good stuff! You can listen to the Love Language Quiz podcast episode on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or on the handy-dandy podcast players on this page. I’m also including the episode highlights, plus a full transcript for you (below) if you’re more of a reader. 

Thanks for tuning in today. I hope that this Love Language Quiz podcast helps you easily create positive change in your relationship. It’s powerful stuff!

Xoxo, 

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

P.S. If you’d like to do even more “learn and grow together” types of activities with your partner, another great resource is our free “How Healthy is Your Relationship Quiz.” You can both take it and use the results to spark a productive conversation about your strengths and growth opportunities as a couple. 

Love Language Quiz

The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast with Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

Music Credits: “You Bring Me Home” by The Sudden Leaves

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Love Languages Quiz: Episode Highlights 

Relationship Compatibility and Love Languages

Love languages refer to the different ways that people experience love. Some therapists don’t think they matter. However, learning about your and your partner’s love language can be a powerful and effective way to understand relationships and make them work. They even explain:

  • why we feel disconnected or unloved
  • why there is no positive relational energy in our relationship
  • why we think we’re not compatible
  • why our relationships don’t work

Often, the simpler explanation to these seemingly dire scenarios is that you and your partner have different love languages. Once you begin to understand these differences, you can work on how to get your needs met in a relationship and satisfy your partner’s too.

Love Languages, Explained.

We often hold this false belief that all people are the same and what is true for us is true for others. Unfortunately, this notion is highly problematic. This way of thinking can lead to hurt, anger, resentment, and feeling unloved. 

Love languages help you identify what you and your partner need in a relationship to make it work. Here are some tips to consider:

  • Never assume what your partner’s love language may be or think that you are the same.
  • Respect the things that matter to your partner even if you don’t agree or like them.

Remember: “The key to compatibility is not twinship; it is not being the same. It is respecting and appreciating each other for your differences.”

The Different Love Languages

People feel loved in different ways. We are all individuals with unique experiences, cultures, and upbringings that shape how we think and feel. And this individuality can extend to our love languages.

Gary Chapman coined the term “love languages” in the 90s. He originally proposed that there were primarily five love languages in his book. These are:

  • Quality time
  • Physical touch
  • Gift-giving
  • Acts of service
  • Words of affirmation

I think there are two more love languages: building together and emotional intimacy. We’ll discuss each one so that you can identify what’s your love language.

Words of Affirmation Love Language

People with this love language need a verbal expression of affection. This includes saying:

  • A simple “I love you.”
  • Compliments like, “You look good today.”
  • Appreciative statements like, “This is an amazing dinner.” Or “Thank you for making this.”

Use the power of praise, compliments, and love often. If you find it hard to express your affection aloud, try sending letters, text messages, or cards. The key here is that you put what you feel for your partner in words.

Gift-Giving Love Language

If your partner’s love language is gift-giving, they feel loved when they receive tokens of your affection. They may also love to shower you with well-thought-of presents.

An example of a thoughtful anniversary gift for someone with this love language is a framed ticket of the first movie or concert you went to as a couple. Remember, gifts don’t have to be expensive to be thoughtful. Although, this does not apply to everybody because, for some cultures, the price matters. So, it really takes getting to know your partner to find the balance.

Acts of Service Love Language

As a love language, acts of service stems from the feeling of being together as a team. You’re both working on a shared life with shared responsibilities. People with this type of love language feel valued if you help them out.

This love language evolves as you grow older because your priorities change as more responsibilities come into your life. For example, in your 20s, acts of service may involve very different activities than when you’re in a different phase of life. For example, when you have children, taking care of the kids may be serving to take care of your partner too. 

Acts of service are more valuable when you do things for your partner without them asking. It makes them feel noticed, respected, and loved. In addition, research shows that “there is a direct correlation between the level of egalitarianism in a relationship, meaning that men and women share the burden of childcare, housework stuff, sexual intimacy and relationship satisfaction.”

Quality Time Love Language

People who prefer quality time love being with their partners and doing things together. It is “this sense that you’re partners in crime. And that there are things that they like to do that are important to them. To be able to share them with you, their number one person, is very, very meaningful.”

The type of meaningful activity you do with your loved ones depends on their personality or preferences and can take many forms. Sometimes quality time involves doing something very special together like a fun evening out, or taking a trip. However there are many small, day-to-day opportunities for spending quality time together that are easy to overlook, such as making it a priority to have meals together, tag along while running errands, or even watching the same series together. Small things count too!

Physical Touch Love Language

For some people, physical touch is how they feel loved. They need to literally feel and touch their partner through a big hug, a kiss, or an intimate evening together.

Sexual intimacy is essential for people with this love language, but it doesn’t always have to be the goal. Instead, “practice having a lot of non-sexual touching and physical intimacy built into your relationship.”

Another manifestation of the physical touch love language is being environmentally sensitive. For example, your partner may always want to be in beautiful places or enjoy food. So, you can also show them love through a variety of “creature comforts” in addition to literally touching them affectionately. 

Emotional Intimacy Love Language

Emotional intimacy is an experience of having emotional safety with your partner. You feel as if they’re not only your partner, they’re also a cherished friend who knows you inside and out.

Emotional intimacy can be confused with quality time. The main difference is it must involve meaningful conversations or things that you can only tell your partner. If your partner has this love language and you fulfill it, they will start to feel safe with you. The key is to listen to your partner with empathy.

Building Together Love Language

Building together is sometimes confused with acts of service because they both require doing things for someone. However, this is more concerned with your future together and not the feeling of being understood and respected. 

An example is planning your financial future. You, as a couple, have shared hopes about your finances, so you have plans to achieve it. This love language signifies a commitment to building a life together. 

What’s Your Love Language?

Time to take the Love Language Quiz! 

In this podcast, I’m going through a short love language quiz designed to get to know your love language, as well as your partner’s. You can also share this episode with your partner so they can understand themselves and learn your love language too. Here are some of the questions to think about: 

  • On a beautiful Saturday morning, what do you want to do?
  • What do you want your partner to do for your birthday?
  • After a long and tiring day of work, what do you need from your partner?
  • What is your most favorite thing about your partner?
  • What is one thing that you wish you had more of in your relationship with your partner?
  • What is most likely to trigger an IKEA fight?

In this podcast, I’m helping you think about these answers from a variety of different “love language perspectives.” This love language test for couples is not scientific nor score–based, yet still really helpful in assisting you in uncovering your truth. The patterns in your answers may reveal what really matters to you. The frequency of your choices can explain what your love language is.

As you think, “what is my love language?” during this exercise, you’ll likely find out that you have more than one love language. That is valid, many people do! But you also need to know what matters most to you, because having that clarity is what allows you to express love meaningfully to each other. The key here is for you to understand the needs of your relationship based on the love languages you and your partner have. That’s what makes a relationship work!

Love Language Activity For Couples

Let’s put these love language ideas to work!

Once you listen to my “love language quiz” and think about your answers, I hope that you forward this episode to your partner so that they, too, can identify their own love language. Then, come back together to share your results and talk about the positive changes you can each make to show each other love, respect, and affection in the way that matters most to both of you. 

What’s next? 

Did you enjoy the podcast? What did you learn about yourself, your partner, and your love languages? How do you think love languages affect how you understand relationships? Share your insights in the comments below? And don’t forget to subscribe to the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast to keep helpful, pro-relationship, positive ideas and activities in your life every single week!  

[Intro Song: You Bring Me Home by The Sudden Leaves]

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: This is Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby and you’re listening to The Love, Happiness, and Success Podcast. Isn’t that a beautiful song? The band is called The Sudden Leaves and the song is You Bring Me Home. I thought that was a nice intro for us today because today, we’re talking about how to create an emotional home base in your relationship through using love languages. Yes, everyone, it is time to talk about love languages. The term love languages refers to how you feel love, how you show love. It’s kind of gotten a bad rap over the years, but I think not the level of respect that it truly deserves. Because I think it’s emerged as this fluffy pop psych concept that sometimes gotten played down by real therapists who are much more interested in talking about mental illness and psychopathology. But that’s not what we’re doing here. 

The Love, Happiness, and Success Podcast is all about helping you be happy, and have great relationships, and feel good about yourself and your life. Although I am a licensed marriage and family therapist, analyst, and psychologist. I’m also a board-certified life coach, which means that I want to do what works and bring that to you. 

Relationship Compatibility and Love Languages

Love languages are incredibly powerful and effective when you learn how to deploy them for forces of good in your own relationship. It’s really incredibly important to know how to do this. Because as a marriage counselor, here at Growing Self counseling and coaching, I am often working with couples, who, at least when they start with me for couples counseling or relationship coaching, they’re not feeling good about their relationship. Neither of them, often, are feeling really loved, or respected, or understood, or appreciated by their partner. 

Unfortunately, in the absence of that positive relational energy, people can start to develop this narrative as to why that helps them make sense of what’s going on in their relationship. It turns into thoughts about: “Well, my partner is avoidant.” “They’re emotionally stunted.” “They can’t communicate.” “They had a critical mother; therefore, x, y, z.” Or even worse. If it’s been going on for a long time, they might begin to really genuinely believe: “My partner is a fundamentally uncaring person, and we are incompatible. Maybe they’re on the autism spectrum.” 

I literally have heard people in garden variety relationships with partners who are objectively not autistic. But they are feeling so unloved and disconnected in their relationship that they’re trying to find reasons why it feels so hard between them. They can go into all kinds of places. Big sweeping statements about their partner’s fundamental character flaws can obscure this much, much simpler, and much more manageable idea. 

Perhaps, your partner and you have different love languages. That my friends is a solvable problem as soon as you can figure that out. There are very specific and relatively easy things that you can both do to completely transform the way that you both feel in your relationship through intentionally using different love languages. This is really important. I’m going to spend some time, first, talking about love languages. There are several different kinds of love languages. 

Then, I am going to give you a love language quiz so that you can answer a few simple questions and think through them. Through that exercise, get a fair amount of clarity around what your most important love language or love languages—there can be more than one—what those are for yourself and, moment of truth, also what your partner’s love languages are. With that clarity, you can then begin using these ideas in your relationship as soon as today. By the end of this episode, I hope that you have more insight into this and some ideas about how to use it. Let’s just dive right in. 

How Love Languages Help You Understand Relationships

First of all, I’m going to briefly talk about the different types of love languages, just to give you an overview. Also, just talk about how differences between them can create hurt feelings, let’s say, or disappointment and expectations in a relationship because this happens all the time. I think we can agree that we all have ways of feeling loved that are meaningful to us, specifically. 

For example, some people experience love and connection the most when they’re engaged in activities with their partner. Even more interestingly, some kinds of activities elicit more feelings of love and connection because of the activity itself. For other people, that doesn’t mean a thing. Others may feel really loved and appreciated when their partners are telling them that they are loved and appreciated: saying complimentary things or letting them know that they are attractive to them, which is very different. Then, other people, they don’t feel loved unless it is a thoughtful gift that someone has shown them, that they were thinking about them very thoughtfully, turning their understanding of the most important things into a gift or an experience that was designed and curated just for them. That is how they feel loved. Many different ways of doing this. 

Who is right? What’s the right way to give and receive love? The fact is that they’re all the right way. But couples can get into very vicious and painful fights about whose way is the right way when they are different within a relationship. That just boils down to the fact that we’re all individuals. We all have a set of life experiences, family of origin cultures that shaped us, and particularly, how we relate to others. Depending on the way you learned what “being loved” means in action, you won’t feel deeply loved and cared for unless love is being spoken to you and shown to you in your language. Hence, the term love language. 

This phrase was coined by a guy named Gary Chapman in the ’90s. He wrote a book, The Five Love Languages. He proposed in his original work that there were primarily five love languages. There was quality time, which is doing things together; physical touch, which can range from hand holding to hugs to sexual intimacy; gift-giving; acts of service, meaning doing things that need to be done without being asked; also, words of affirmation, so praise, affectionate statements, compliments. He found five. 

Actually, in my experience, I think that there are two others. I think that there’s this planning and building component that’s important in many relationships. There is also emotional intimacy, which is incredibly important for many people. I’m kind of surprised that it wasn’t in Gary Chapman’s book. Maybe emotional intimacy was so far away from his own personal love languages that it wasn’t even on his radar, perhaps. But it’s very true for many people. We’re going to be talking about it on today’s show, just in case it’s yours. 

The first thing to know about love languages, this is going to change everything, is this central idea that all humans are vulnerable to believing that other people are pretty much the same as we are. We have things going on in our own minds, in our own emotions that make sense to us; and therefore, we project onto others that the same things are true for them. This causes all kinds of problems in many different aspects of human relationships. 

Certainly, with couples is when people assume that love means the same thing to both of you, that if you love having sex with your partner, and you feel so connected, and close to them, and they don’t always want to do that with you, if you don’t understand that they have different ways of experiencing sexuality or feeling loved, it’s like, “Why? Why don’t they want to do that? Do they not love me anymore? They’re not attracted to me anymore? Why don’t they want to be emotionally close to me?” It’s because it doesn’t mean the same thing to them as it does to you. But the risk here is that there’s a lot of personalization that goes into that assumption and a lot of hurt feelings. 

In contrast, if one person feels that sexuality and romantic evenings are the pinnacle of connection, and they are partnered with someone whose number one love language is acts of service and is really wanting material help in getting things done around home improvement projects, or child care, or just taking care of business, that you’re both going to feel really annoyed and disappointed with each other because you’re wanting things from each other that almost don’t compute. 

Yes, you might understand that your partner would really like to be intimate with you, but you don’t understand why and vice versa that your partner really wants to clean the garage all day on Saturday, and they want you to be excited, and show up, and proactive. They may not understand that that act of service is the third ring of hell for you. It is not something that you enjoy. And it’s certainly not something that you associate with love, and respect, and the fabric of your relationship. 

When there’s conflict around that or push-back or like, “Do we have to?”, you or your partner might feel like, “What do you mean ‘do we have to’? Am I alone in this life? Where are you? What are we doing together?” It turns into this big existential relationship threat that you will have no idea about. There’s this ferocious anger coming at you all of a sudden. They’re like, “Well, why are we even doing this together?” That can be really surprising unless you understand how deeply these roots go into attachment, and love, and what love means. 

In contrast, if couples don’t understand what’s going on, they will be blindsided all the time by these weird reactions and people getting extremely upset about things that seem mysterious. Like, “What? I just said I didn’t feel like going on a hike today. Why are you crying all of a sudden?” They don’t really know. But if you understand that your partner’s love language is something and they were just reaching out to you in a very vulnerable way like it felt to them, this moment of connection, if you understand that that’s what’s going on, you will know how to handle these things completely differently. And you will begin knowing how to really give your partner that love and affection in the way that is most meaningful to them, not only will you stop having these surprising fights that seem to come out of nowhere, your relationship will feel so much stronger and better for both of you. Because let’s face it, we’re all really craving love. We all just want to feel cared for, and understood, and loved, and respected. Knowing what that means to your partner is the path to create the kind of relationship that you want

First of all, my first tip is don’t assume that you know what your partner’s love language is or that it is, or that it should be similar to yours. Just if you take one thing away from this podcast, let it be this idea that what is important and meaningful to you does not have to be important or meaningful to someone else. But in a loving committed relationship, even if your partner doesn’t experience things in exactly the same way that you do, if it’s important to you, they need to at least respect that it is important to you and be willing to go along with it because it is important to you. It does not have to be as personally important to them. It’s absolutely okay for you guys to be different individuals with complementary strengths in a vibrant relationship. The key to compatibility is not twinship. It is not being the same. It is respecting and appreciating each other for your differences, right? 

The Different Love Languages

Let’s do a quick run-through of the main types of love languages, just to give you an overview.

Words of Affirmation

First of all, there are words of affirmation. This means that people really feel loved when there is verbal acknowledgment of feelings. They feel loved when you say “I love you,” literally. Or “Hey, you look great today.” Compliments, appreciative statements. “Oh, my gosh. This was the most amazing dinner I’ve ever had. Thank you so much for making this. I really appreciate this.” For your partner to feel loved by you, they need to be hearing this. If it is hard for you to say these kinds of things out loud, you might consider a little card, or a letter, or a text message even counts. But it’s like, “How do I make my feelings for them, my appreciation for them overt in language, verbal language?”If it doesn’t happen in verbal language, it doesn’t mean the same thing because it’s their love language. 

If over the course of this podcast you learn that this is your partner’s main love language, you can’t also just do it one time and then think “Oh, yeah, I told them that I loved them in 2017, so they know.” It has to be frequent. Daily. Multiple times a day. They need to be hearing from you how great you think they are. Let that idea sink in, especially if you’re not naturally a verbally expressive person. That one can be a little challenging. But again, lots of things can change if you learn how to do that well. 

Gift-Giving

Another love language is gift-giving. If your partner’s love orientation is built around gifts, you will probably have experienced from them what it feels like to be presented with something from them. Because the other thing about love languages is that people, your partner, is probably showing you what their love language is by the way they treat you. Going back to the first one, if your partner is following you around all the time, telling you how great you are and how much they love you, there’s a good chance that their love language are words of affirmation. 

If your partner gives you presents or is doing amazing things, jumping out of a cake on your birthday, their primary love orientation is probably gift-giving. Think about if your partner is doing this, what it feels like to get a present for them? It’s probably very nicely wrapped. It is probably thoughtful. They have probably spent a lot of time thinking about what you might like that would signify something special between the two of you—framing the concert tickets from your first date, and wrapping it up, and giving it to you on your anniversary. That is the kind of thing that a gift-giving person would do. It is going to be important for you to do some of that for them. 

I also just want to say out loud right here, don’t confuse gift with expense. There does not need to necessarily be a monetary component to gift-giving. Although, for some people that come from some families of origin, the expense of the gift actually does matter. I’ll leave it to you to think through whether or not that might be true for your partner. But generally speaking, the gifts that are most meaningful and valued are the ones that come through your thought and from your effort, not from your wallet. 

This one can be a tough one because if your partner has a strong gift-giving orientation, and you don’t, this can be a big step. For example, thankfully, neither my husband and I are hugely gift-giving people. I am anti-gift-giving. I do not like it when people give me presents. I don’t know what it is. I always just feel uncomfortable and like, “Okay, thank you.” But I don’t love it. If I were partnered with somebody who really needed gifts and thoughtful curated things for me, I would have to spend a lot of time and energy on that and be very intentional with how I do that. I just say that out loud to highlight the fact that sometimes, it’s a stretch if your partner has a way of feeling loved that’s very, very different from yours. 

Acts of Service

Another important and, I think, under-noticed love language for many people are acts of service. I think what that stems from is this feeling that you’re together on the same team. You’re working together on this shared life and there are a set of responsibilities that have to be managed for that. When they feel helped by you in material ways, it is very loving for them. I think that this is an interesting one because it can evolve over time. 

For example, and this is super stereotypical, but for a couple to meet and connect in their early 20s, and they’re off going and doing fun things together, and concerts, and motorcycle rides, and having a good time, that feels like what the fabric of a relationship is built on—having a good time together, having experiences because that’s really what fits for that phase of life. As relationships evolve over time, and mature, and the circumstances of life become different, particularly, as people get older and maybe their relationship expands to include a family, and a house to maintain, and jobs to juggle, to pay for the family in the house, just mountains of stuff and a social life, now, the kid is in T-ball, there’s just so much stuff that feels legitimately overwhelming for many people. 

In this new context, acts of service can become the most significant way that people feel loved, and respected, and appreciated by each other. It’s almost being seen like, “Oh, my God. I’m drowning.” For a partner to take the initiative to notice that the windshield wiper blades need to be replaced, and without asking anybody, just go ahead and do that. Order them on Amazon. They come to the house. They’re now on the car without somebody having to say, “Oh, my God, the windshield wiper blades.” It’s amazing. That is very, very meaningful for a lot of people. 

But this is also a very humble love language. It is easily missed because it might not seem directly related to your partner’s heart. But for an overwhelmed eight-armed dervish overworking parent, to have somebody else just notice like, “Oh, you know what? That laundry needs to be folded and put away. I’m just going to go ahead and do it,” they could fall into your arms weeping with gratitude. I will also just say that research backs this one up. There is now research that shows. This is, again, my apologies for any of my same-sex couple friends, but in heterosexual relationships, there is a direct correlation between the level of egalitarianism in a relationship, meaning that men and women share the burden of childcare, housework, stuff together, direct correlation between that and sexual intimacy and relationship satisfaction. 

What that means in layperson’s terms is that when men vacuum, there is more sex. I want to just remove this idea that there’s sort of a reward-punishment thing going on. Like, “Oh, you’re a good boy. I’m going to have sex with you now. That is not it, and I don’t want you to think it is. What is true is that when men are more deeply involved and equivalent partners when it comes to running a life, there is this natural feeling of love, and feeling respected and appreciated. Also, in practical terms, more energy to be intimate, compared to, say, a stereotypical again, my apologies, working mom who comes home, and does a second shift, and now has to vacuum, and fold the laundry, and is falling into bed at 11 o’clock at night, just exhausted. There isn’t any margin left for sexual intimacy compared to a relationship with a partner who did all the stuff and now, they can both go to bed together at night. There’s very real aspects of this that can strengthen a relationship enormously for both people. I just want you to think about that. 

Quality Time

Another important love language is that of quality time. Quality time people feel loved by you when you are together out in the world and doing fun things. Also, fun things that are fun for them, many times. They are probably craving magical moments with you where you’re doing something, and there’s shared enjoyment. For some couples, and this is going to be a little bit different depending on the personality and the culture of your relationship, but for some, and particularly if you have a partner who likes adventure and travel, doing something interesting or fun or new, it will be very, very meaningful for them when you’re their adventure buddy. 

I think it’s partly a shared experience that feels like a bonding moment, but also opportunities to have conversations or learn about something new together. Or make a memory, a memorable memory together. It feels connecting to them. I think it touches this kind of deep level. This sense that you’re partners in crime, and that you get them, and that there are things that they like to do that are important to them. To be able to share them with you, their number one person, is very, very meaningful. 

If your partner is one of those active people who really likes doing special things, it’s important for you to take the initiative and make some plans that are in alignment with their interests. While it’s always helpful to make it fun, I think that there’s also opportunity to have those points of connection in more of the null day-to-day activities. Some people go to the grocery store together or watching a show together. That’s a very small subtle thing, but you’re still sharing the experience, and having the opportunity to talk about things, and ride in the car on the way there and back. 

For some very efficient families, that turns into this divide and conquer. Like, “Okay, I’ll watch the kids. You go to Target. We’re going to do this.” But it creates a lot of separation. While it can be efficient and get things done, it misses these natural opportunities for time together on just a day-to-day basis. Eating meals together might actually be really important to your partner who is oriented in this way. Then, of course, sprinkling in magical moments and genuinely fun and interesting exciting things are really fun, too. So, yay. 

Physical Touch

We have to mention that physical touch is an extremely important love language for many people. For some people, it’s really one of the only ways that they really, really feel loved and cared for. By literally feeling you, having you hold their hand or give them a big hug, or kiss, or spend an intimate evening with them, that’s when they feel that you are connected, that you’re a couple, that you’re in this together, and that there’s this bond. For some people, you can tell them that you love them a thousand times, and buy them presents, and go on trips, but they just don’t feel special unless you are hugging them, holding their hand, and giving them a squeeze. It’s really important to them, and it must be acknowledged. It must be honored, too, I think, because it’s really important. 

I will say sexual intimacy can be very, very important to physically-oriented types, but it’s also important to not always make sex the goal or outcome or physicality. Because when that happens, it can actually limit day-to-day natural affectionate physical touching. Because if every little interaction needs to turn into sexual intercourse, then people will begin avoiding that, so you’ll have less hugs and less kisses, more physical distance because cuddling on the couch will always turn into having sex. I think we need to have flexibility around that for both partners because that can unintentionally damage sexual intimacy when there’s this pressure-y feeling but to even acknowledge that and practice having a lot of nonsexual touching and physical intimacy built into your relationship. 

Another little fun fact is that if your partner is very physically oriented, in addition to physical affection and intimacy, it may show up in other ways. They may be very environmentally sensitive, want to be in beautiful spaces. They may be foodies, really into tastes, and textures, and smells, and clothing. There’s this whole physicality around people like this. Just to take that in mind as well. To think about how you can show them love that is physical in nature without necessarily being physical affection like a nice dinner or a special treat, design types of experiences. Music even can actually be important. Just to think about how the spectrum of physicality and how you can show your partner love in that way. 

Emotional Intimacy

We just kind of had a quick overview of Chapman’s love languages. Let me talk about two others that I’ve seen over the years. One of them is emotional intimacy. What emotional intimacy refers to is the experience of feeling deeply understood, emotionally safe, like your partner truly gets you, as a friend too, in addition to as a romantic partner. 

Running through all of the love languages I’ve described, there’s this kind of thread, which is all of the love languages require a deep understanding of your partner. That gift-giving, when it is meaningful, really comes from this deep understanding, and recognition, and appreciation of your partner. But I think emotional intimacy is a more direct experience of all of those. They can be confused with quality time, going and running around doing things and having conversations. But consider that a couple could spend a weekend camping, and making the fires, and going on the hikes, and talking about things that are maybe not necessarily deeply meaningful conversations. They aren’t sort of tinged with this not necessarily vulnerability, but just this experience of, “I only tell these things to you. You are special. I am sharing with you my very important secret feelings. I’m not even sure how I feel about this yet, but I wanted to share it with you because it’s coming up for me.” 

It’s having meaningful conversations and experiences that are emotionally safe. It’s this experience of, “I can tell you anything, and it would be okay. I feel unconditionally loved and accepted by you for exactly who and what I am. It’s okay for me to not be okay. It’s okay for me to be in the messy middle of something and not actually know how I’m going to get to the other side and just share that with you without you telling me what I should do or how to fix it.” Right? It’s just like this shared space, this emotional space. 

Emotional intimacy people, they don’t care as much about what they do, or the stuff is getting done, or even physical affection. Really, they feel loved when you ask them how they’re doing and then listen to the answer with empathy. When they feel that you care about how they’re feeling, and want to know, and are inviting them to tell you, that is really what makes them feel loved, and connected, and validated, and appreciated. They need that, so just know that.

I will also add that for some people that is a skill that needs to be developed. That’s in alignment with some of the emotional intelligence conversations that you and I have had in the past. We can create another topic on that, specifically. I just wanted to say out loud, if you don’t know how to do that, that’s okay. You can learn how to do that, and it is very important that you learn how to do that, to communicate with your partner in a way that really fosters genuine emotional intimacy. Because without it, a relationship will wither, and you won’t know why. Not to be scary, but grizzled Gen X here has seen a lot. You don’t know what I’ve seen.

Building Together

Another and the last love language that we’ll be talking about today that is not in the Chapman book is also this idea of building together. Building-together people can sometimes be confused with acts-of-service people because building often requires many things to be done in order to achieve the big hairy goals. But acts of service are more about feeling understood and respected because your partner is seeing the things that have to be done. There’s a shared responsibility, and they can step in to take something off your plate is what feels often most meaningful about that. Building together is a little different because people who have a strong building orientation, they actually care less about the tasks and more about what it means and where you are going as a couple. Building equals shared commitment. This can be actualized in tasks. 

Say your partner really wants you to do a budget with them, okay? It’s not about doing the budget and like, “Okay, how much money are we going to spend in July?” It’s really around, “We have shared hopes and goals for our financial future as a couple, and we are working towards something. Ten years from now, this is what our life will be like because we are doing these things today.” It’s very future-oriented. It’s making plans, and then, doing things in the present moment that actualize those plans. 

An acts-of-service person would be very happy if you painted the bedroom because it needs to be done. A building-together person would be very happy to paint the bedroom because it will increase the resale value of this house, so when you sell it, you’ll be better able to buy your actual dream home, which is this. Already, there’s a magazine picture of it cut out on a little bulletin board. That’s the dream board. That’s the building-together person. Some of the activities can be the same, but the intentions and the meaning behind it is pretty different. 

If you don’t understand that about your partner, that these future plans and being in alignment about future plans are really how they feel loved and secure, that your partnership is forward-moving, there’s commitment, that’s how they feel loved—big, heavy ideas. I thank you, though, for talking through these with me. Because, again, if you don’t understand this and what’s really happening underneath some of these little moments, like when your partner comes in for a hug or when your partner says, “I think we should paint the bedroom on Saturday,” you can miss so much. I hope that this overview helps you understand more deeply what’s at the core. 

What’s Your Love Language?

Now, I also promised you a love language quiz, and I’m going to give you this quiz. Hopefully, by the end of it, you’ll have a pretty clear sense, as if you didn’t already, but you’ll have more clarity around your love language and that of your partner too. It might actually be a fun thing, particularly, if you’re listening to this on your own right now. Send this to your partner, get them to listen through it, and get them to listen to the love language quiz so that they have more insight around their own love language and yours so that they can show you love in the ways we’re talking about, too. 

Okay, let’s do a love language quiz together now so that you can get clarity about your love language and that of your partner’s. 

Here is question one: You wake up on a beautiful Saturday morning, and the first thing you want to do is…? What just popped into your head? Was it… 

A: Have sex with your partner.

B: Get in the car and go do something fun for the rest of the day.

C: Have a leisurely brunch with your partner and just talk about everything that’s been happening lately, work, stuff, life, friends.

D: Would you love to have your partner take care of the kids for a little while or handle another task, so you can just go back to sleep for a few more minutes? 

E: Are you waking up thinking about what wonderful things your partner might have in store for you today? Are you hoping that they might have made you breakfast? 

Is your hope that you might get a kiss and an “I love you so much” from your partner, who’s just laying there in bed beside you, just staring at you with love in their eyes, and say, “Oh, my God. You’re so beautiful,” even when you just wake up? 

Or when you wake up on a Saturday morning, is the first thought in your head that’s about: “What are we going to do today? We need to get started on this big home-improvement project, need to go to the hardware store and get some stuff, planning for the next big thing.” 

Is that what your ideal Saturday would look like? Think about that. In those responses, you are going to have some ideas about what your love language is. 

Okay, here’s another one: Think about your upcoming birthday, your next birthday, and what you would like most your partner to do for you. Is it, first of all… 

A: plan a romantic sensual evening? 

B: Take you out to do something that you love, like going on a fun weekend, seeing a show, getting together with friends? 

C: Nothing fancy, just clear the calendar, so they can spend the whole day connecting with you. Going on walks, talking about what the last year has been like, what you’d like the next year to be like.

D: Would you love for them to handle all the to-do’s so that you can take the day off and just have some guilt-free self-care time? Go to the spa, get a pedicure, go ride your motorcycle. 

Are you wishing that they would surprise you with a thoughtful, meaningful gift? Bonus points if it’s extra special and nicely wrapped. Are you wishing that they would give you a card or a letter that is just them pouring out all their heartfelt feelings for you? 

Or would you like your birthday to be all about their connecting it with a milestone for your shared life together? That they would propose that they would say, “This time next year, you’re going to be pregnant.” Or “This time next year we’re going to be living in Los Angeles, and you’re going to have your dream job, and here’s how we’re going to do it.” Is it celebrating the milestones and talking about what’s next? 

Okay, next question: After a really rough day at work, just imagine you are drained, you’re fried, you’re frazzled, you’re all the things like, “Ahh.” What do you really, really need from your partner? Is it…

A: A big, long hug? 

B: Getting their help in shifting gears. Like going for a walk together, watching a fun show, talking about vacation plans, and like, “Hey, let’s get out of here. Let’s go for a ride. Whatever.”

C: Is it that you really, really want their full attention while you just talk about everything that happened? What’s going on for me, how you feel about it, and feel they really understand you, just why this day was so hard and what it feels like to be you. 

D: After a long day, you would really like for them to figure out what the heck we’re going to have for dinner, and make it, and then do the dishes, so I don’t have to deal with it. I’m just going to lay here on the couch and stare at a wall and back. Somebody else is making my dinner. I don’t care what it is. 

E: You would love them to get you a little care package or special treat or nice thing that reminds you, like when you wake up tomorrow morning, there’s a bouquet of flowers that can stay at your work desk all day so that you feel loved and cared for and they know that you’re going through a hard time because you’re looking at the flowers. 

If you just had a hard day, do you love being reminded that you are strong, smart, and competent, and you’re doing a really great job under difficult circumstances? “All those people you work with are jerks, and they don’t appreciate you enough. You are amazing. You’re going to get to the next level and just never have to talk to any of the people again. I am on your side no matter what happens.” Is that what you want? 

Or lastly, do you want from them a reminder that, “We’re doing this for a reason and our future holds something so much better. You’re going to be in this place for six more months, and then here’s what we’re going to do, and here’s what’s going to happen after that. This is just one step on the large and winding staircase towards our ideal life that we are building together. I’m here with you in that.” What do you want? 

Now, you might also be thinking that, “I want all of those. Yes, please. I would like every single one of those things.” Valid. That is absolutely valid. But what means the most to you? As you think through these, if you could only have one, what would it be? Then, what would be the second most important thing for you? Because if everything is important, nothing is important. This exercise is about how to get clarity around your love languages. These are all nice, but think about which ones would be most meaningful for you. 

Okay, now, next question: What is your most favorite thing about your partner? 

Is it that they are a great kisser, and hugger, and they smell good, and it feels wonderful to be with them, and you love your sex life with them, that they make you feel really good? 

Or is your favorite thing about your partner that you guys are adventure partners? You have so much fun together even if you’re just out doing random things. They can make you laugh while you’re in line at the grocery store. That kind of thing.

Is your favorite thing about your partner that you feel understood by them? That they really care about your feelings, and they’re your best friend, and they know you inside and out. You can share anything, and it is emotionally safe. 

Is your favorite thing about your partner the fact that they proactively take care of practical things and your shared life together just to make your life easier? 

Or is it that they are incredible about treating you with special things or experiences that make life worth living? Are they thoughtful and just, “Bing, here’s the cherry on top” that you weren’t even expecting but somehow, they just magically know exactly what to do. 

Or is it that you feel like your partner is your number one fan. They are always reminding you of how much they love you, and appreciate you, and they’re attracted to you, and they think you’re smart. They just fill up your cup with words of admiration, praise, and affection. 

Or lastly, is it that your partner is really deeply committed to the vision of your shared life together? That you know your values are in alignment, you are going in the same direction, and you’re actively creating the life that you both want? 

Okay, two more questions. The next question I have for you: What is one thing that you wish you had more of in your relationship with your partner? 

Is it wishing that you had more physical intimacy? Like, “Yes, hugs, kisses, but also, I would like to have more sex. I would like to have more sex with my partner. When I feel connected physically, that is when I feel closest to them.” 

B: Is it that you wish you had more fun together? Do you feel like your life has kind of got a little bit boring, and you just wish that you had more opportunities to go out and do fun things and things that you both have a good time with? 

C: Is it that you wish you had more emotional intimacy in your relationship? Deep, honest conversations that make you feel connected, more emotionally validated, less maybe criticism and more just unconditionally positive emotional support?

Or is it that you wish your partner was more proactive about day-to-day things that you don’t feel like everything was on you? Everything from childcare to cleaning to just stuff that needs to get done. Do you feel like you’re always having to bug them to do stuff instead of them just noticing things that need to be done? 

Or is it that you wish your partner would put more thought and energy into thinking about what would be nice for you? If it was planning gifts or trips or even meals or evenings. Just feeling considered and that they were trying to make things special for you and nice for you, the way that you would make it special and nice for them. 

Or is it that you wish your partner was more positive about you or more demonstrative, more complimentary, more expressive of their feelings of love and respect for you? Or do you feel you have to ask them to say something nice to you? Is that what you would like to be different? 

Or lastly, do you wish that you and your partner had more shared hopes and dreams for the long haul and that your partner was more actively involved in building things with you? Is it hard for you to get them to talk about the future and what they’d like just so that you can feel you’re moving forward together? 

Just as an aside here in the quiz, and not to be certainly negative at all, but I think that considering our points of dissatisfaction with our relationships can also be very illuminating when it comes to understanding our love language and also that of our partner. Because if you have a love language that your partner either is not aware of or is indifferent around, one of those things that I just said is probably going to be a little like, “Ooh” for you. That’s completely okay, does not mean a bad thing about your relationship. It’s just a growth opportunity, right? That’s why we’re doing this, as always. 

Okay, very last question, and this is my IKEA relationship question. If you don’t know what an IKEA is, it is a Swedish retailer. They sell furniture and home goods. They’re these giant furniture stores, basically. They are all over North America, Europe, Asia. If you live within 300 miles of IKEA, you will be able to relate to this. But in the event that you haven’t, as you listen to the questions, just think about another trip to a furniture or home-goods store that you may have taken with your partner in the last year or two. All right. Here’s the IKEA question. Virtually, every couple has had a fight related to an IKEA excursion. It’s impossible to not to. I have had one. Everybody I know has had one. 

Now, the question is what is the most likely thing to trigger your IKEA fight? Is it…

One: That you start feeling stressed out, frazzled, exhausted, overwhelmed, and/or hungry? Like you just have got to get out of that IKEA ASAP into the light of day, but your partner wasn’t done yet, and you’re freaking out?

Or is it B: When you start venting about how much you have hated wasting a day of your life trapped in an IKEA? You would so much rather be doing something else. “This was a wasted day. We could have gone on a bike ride, we could have done anything, and I’m stuck here.” Is that why you would have gotten in a fight? 

C: You get into fights about IKEA because you’re not on the same page about what we thought we should get. Now, we are in a fight about different perspectives. “Who was right? This is wrong. You are being ridiculous, and we were not in alignment. I thought we were here to get a new kitchen, you thought we were here just looking around. You think it’s a bad idea to get a new kitchen.” Miscommunication. 

D: Your fights in IKEA are usually related to when you feel resentful that you are the one thinking about what we need. You are planning the decor. You’re picking everything out. You are thinking about what would be a good thing to have in the kid’s room. Your partner is present, but they are completely checked out and passive. They are not participating in decision-making. They’re just standing there. They’ll do something if you tell them to but not until you told them to, and it is just bugging the heck out of you. 

E: You will get in a fight in or about an IKEA because one of you thinks their stuff is cheap and that we should aim higher, but the other one of you thinks it’s a good bargain. It’s fine. It’s just as good as anything else, really, and it doesn’t cost that much. What are you trying to do to our finances anyway? There’s big vicious arguments about the quality of the stuff that you should have in your life. 

Or another IKEA fight reason is that you start to bicker when your partner is stressed out, and getting really grumpy, and impatient, and irritable just being negative, and cranky, and saying negative things and, “Why are we here?”, feeling like they’re mad at you for being there at that IKEA. This isn’t fun anymore and they should be nicer to you. 

Lastly, do you get in fights related to IKEA because you would love to go to an IKEA or anywhere for that matter and buy furniture together but your partner doesn’t want to because maybe they’re not that committed? “What does it mean that you don’t want to buy furniture with me?” Okay, let all those sink in. 

You may have gotten into an IKEA fight for a different reason than the one that I’ve described, but those are the big ones. They are also the ones that are primarily related to love languages. 

Those questions, like everything else on this love language quiz, are in order. There is, first of all, questions about physical affection. Then, questions, number two answers are about quality time. The third question in line is about emotional intimacy, or the third answer I should say. The fourth answer is about acts of service. The fifth answer is about gift-giving.  The sixth answer is about words of affirmation. And the seventh answer is about building together. 

As you write down all your questions, you may start to notice patterns in your answers. Was it primarily the second question? Was it primarily the seventh question? Again, this is not a scientific score-based kind of thing. But primarily, if there are patterns around your answers, if you mostly resonated with number one and maybe secondarily number six, you know that your love language is primarily physical affection and then also positive affirmations. That’s just something to know. But it’s also really important to think about, “How would my partner have answered these questions to the love language quiz?” 

Better yet, instead of making assumptions, you could send this podcast and quiz to them. Get them to listen and actually tell you, “You know what? These are my love languages. These are the times that I feel truly loved by you, and this is what I wish I had more of for you in our relationship.” Those can sometimes feel challenging conversations, especially if there’s defensiveness or like, “That’s not true.” Let’s try to avoid that, as always. 

Just having open conversations about this can really open the door to understanding each other more deeply, and being able to show each other the love and respect that you each deserve, and learn how to do so in a way that is genuinely meaningful to your partner. Because if you keep trying to show your partner love and respect in the way that’s important to you and not in the way that’s important to them, your efforts will fall flat. They will not feel loved and respected by you. It will be to the detriment of your relationship. 

It’s a pretty easy fix to turn it around, to know your partner better, and to show them love in a way that’s meaningful to them. I sincerely hope that this podcast episode has given you some actionable guidance on how to achieve that in your relationship. Thank you for spending this time with me today. As always, so much more for you at growingself.com. Come on over. We have all sorts of articles on the blog. We have relationship quizzes. We have other podcast episodes on things like communication, getting on the same page, healthy relationship skills and so much more. I hope you check them all out because they are all here for you at growingself.com

Alright. Thanks, everyone, and I’ll be back in touch next week with another episode.

[Outro Song: You Bring Me Home by The Sudden Leaves]


Keeping the Romance Alive

Keeping the Romance Alive

Rekindle Romance in Long-term Relationships

In long-term relationships, keeping the romance alive isn’t always an easy task. Everyday life can get in the way of doing small romantic gestures for our partner that we enjoyed at the beginning of the relationship. 

This relationship dynamic can hinder romance and connection. The good news though? It doesn’t have to be this way. Long-term relationship dynamics open opportunities to rediscover each other, rekindle your connection, and keep your romance alive. 

As an online marriage counselor and relationship coach, I want to share with you some of the same tips I share with my couples clients who too are struggle keeping the romance alive. This way you can get started on rekindling romance in your relationship today! 

9 Ways to Practice Keeping the Romance Alive in Long-term Relationships

Communicate Your Needs and Listen to Your Partner

It’s true that communication is one of the most important factors to any relationship when it comes to keeping the romance alive, it’s also one of the most difficult things for couples to do effectively. This is especially true if your relationship is going through something completely new – new challenges, new hurdles, new arguments, new annoyances! 

Communicating effectively takes practice and it is important that during times when we worry about so much, we also pay attention to our needs and communicate these with our partner. 

Acknowledge your frustrations, tell them what would help you feel more at ease, more loved, more connected. When your partner shares their needs, make sure you put your phone down and pay attention. This will help your partner feel heard, understood, and will also help you get on the same page with them and come up with solutions together. 

[For more on building better communication with your partner, check out this three part communciation podcast series: Solve The Biggest Problem In Your Relationship: Communication]

Dress Up for Yourself and Your Partner

It’s not uncommon or unexpected to get comfortable in your relationship. Some personal habits you might have upheld in the early dating stages of your relationship may not feel as important now – and that’s okay! However, for my couples that are struggling to rekindle their romance flame, I recommend that they try dressing up once or twice a week, even if you’re just having dinner at home. 

Do your hair, put on makeup, perfume, cologne, or whatever it is that makes you feel nice. Do this for yourself (as when you look great you feel better) and do this for your partner so they can see you as your most confident and attractive self as well. 

[If you are struggling with self-worth and low self-esteem, you're not alone. With everything this world throws at us, it's not a surprise that we struggle so often to realize how truly valuable and wonderful we are. If these factors are hindering you from keeping the romance alive, I encourage you to read this reminder: You Are Worthy of Love and Respect and know that you deserve love and respect! For more on building self-esteem and confidence, check out: How to Increase Self Confidence (Part 1)]

Compliment Each Other Regularly

Genuine compliments can make us feel so special. Make sure you practice gratitude and appreciation of each other every day. Focusing on qualities that you love and appreciate in one another primes your brain to notice the positives and not only the negative or frustrating things in each other. 

If you can, create an “appreciation jar,” where you each write a compliment or appreciation about your partner every day. 

[Have you heard of micro-dates? These are fantastic ways to connect with your partner regularly throughout your day, read more about micro-dates here: The Micro-Date Revolution]

Turn Off The Screens (Activity Ideas Below)

Make sure you have screen-free time. This includes TV, computers, tablets and phones. Try an activity (ideas below) during this, and focus on each other. 

It may feel a little awkward at first, but the more time you spend away from the screen and together in interactive and engaging activities, the easier and more enjoyable it will become. You’ll get to where you both look forward to those screen-free activities together. 

[Stuck on social and feeling down? Read more about Social Media and Happiness: How to Make Them Co-Exist]

Plan Your Routines Together

Plan out some daily routines, chores, activities and who is doing what. Having a plan, even when you feel you don’t need one because you are just at home, can be very helpful in avoiding building frustrations. 

Your routine can include planning out the necessary chores, creating a menu for the week, and identifying the activities you’d like to do and when you will do them. 

It’s important to have a plan when you want to accomplish something, and your relationship is no different. If you set yourself (and your relationship) up for success, you’re both more likely to follow through with your commitments.

Build A Team Environment 

WE ARE IN THIS TOGETHER. Doing some of the activities outlined below, such as starting and completing a challenge together, can be an easy and stress-free way to create a sense of team spirit. 

Building a team environment in your relationship will help you feel more connected and ready to tackle the challenges that you are facing (whether they be internal or external to your relationship).

Create Space for “Me Time” 

This may sound like a contradiction to my point before, but it is a lot easier to participate in the ‘team,’ when we feel like we can be our own selves as well. 

Try and take some time apart each day. If you’re not able to leave the home, spend some time in different rooms of your house. This may even be just taking a long bath with some relaxing music while your partner is in the living room reading a book. 

By creating space for “me time” you’re actually encouraging a healthy self-care routine with yourself and for your partner. 

[Here’s more on self-care and independence in a relationship: How to Not Lose Yourself in a Relationship and How to Develop Your Self-Identity and Experience Personal Growth in a Committed Relationship]

Continue Making An Effort (And Seek Help When Needed)

Complacency is the enemy of romance. Once we stop making an effort for each other, it is inevitable that romance and the spark you once had will fade. Effort doesn’t have to be difficult. As long as you try to do right by your partner, and implement some of the strategies outlined here, your partner will definitely appreciate all that you are trying to do.

If you find that you’re struggling to make an effort, reach out for support. Whether that’s discussing it with your partner, asking for friendly advice from a friend or family member, or reaching out to a therapist or coach – there’s help out there for you when you need it (and we all do from time to time).

[Want to learn more about couples counseling? Find out if Online Marriage Counseling, Online Couples Counseling, or an International Relationship Coach is right for you.]

Make Time For Intimacy 

Physical affection and sexuality can be difficult in times of stress. Try to ensure that it doesn’t take the backseat completely. In long-term relationships, we can get busy with “life” and forget to connect with our partner on a more intimate level, which is a major factor in keeping the romance alive.

“In most long-term relationships, sooner or later there will be a time when the sexual dynamic is not as ambient as it once was. Even in a happy and otherwise fulfilling relationship, sexuality can take a hit due to several reasons, including stress, major life events, hormonal changes, physiological concerns, etc.. 

However, when things in the bedroom become a little more dull, repetitive or almost absent, there are quite a few ways to ‘spice things up.’” 

Quote From: HOW TO KEEP STRESS FROM TANKING YOUR SEX LIFE

Keeping the Romance Alive: Activities to Try

Try something new together – Novelty is a great way to build romance and connection. Any of the ideas below would work, but coming up with something together can be a fun activity as well. 

Play games – Board games, card games, or brain teasers try out a few and see what the two of you enjoy the most. You can even make a game night out of it and invite some friends over. 

Double Dates – There are fun new ways to have double dates these days. Whether you’re meeting up in person or over virtual video – you can meet up for outdoor activities, dinner, or even host a virtual cooking or game night!

Exercise together – You can set this as a challenge and encourage each other to follow through with completing the challenge. For example, complete 100 squats every day. Break it up to 50 in the morning and 50 in the evening or break it up even more to 25 at one time. You can also exchange it to sit ups or push ups, or any activity that doesn’t require much space or equipment. 

This is an especially good activity for those looking to build intimacy in your relationship. Taking care of yourself physically can lead to a healthier sex life!

Have a picnic – Outdoor and indoor picnics are both great ways to connect with your partner. Lay down a blanket at your favorite outdoor area or venue, or in the living room, put on some music, and bring out some picnic foods you can find at home. This could be cheese and crackers, cold meats, olives, dips, fruits, drinks, chocolates, or anything you can source and have some fun with. 

Not wanting to put the work into building a picnic? Search for a charcuterie business near you that will provide the picnic (and maybe even set up and clean up!) so that you can spend the time focusing on each other and not on what side dish you’d like to bring!

Try a food sensory activity – You could do this during the picnic, or at a different time. Place small and easily manageable pieces of different food items in your partner's mouth while they are blindfolded, and they have to guess what the food item is. This could even be a good activity for building intimacy together!

Cook something together – If neither of you are good cooks, here is the opportunity to learn how to create some nice meals. If one of you is usually responsible for cooking, the other should give it a go with your assistance. Find some recipes together that you’d like to try and complete the whole process together, from prep to eating your lovely meal.  

Walk down memory lane – Look at old pictures of the two of you. Remember those times, the fun memories, and what you liked about each other back then. Maybe even spend a moment on appreciating how far you’ve come since then, and all that you have accomplished together. 

Eye gazing activity – Sounds simplistic and silly, but this is a powerful activity that stimulates the bonding hormones in your brains and helps with feeling connected. It can feel like the world’s problems melt away and it is just you two that matter. 

While sitting, face each other, make sure you are touching in some way (holding hands) and try looking into each other’s eyes for 5 minutes, without speaking or looking away. Once the giggling subsides, you’ll start really appreciating the connection this activity is creating. 

Meditate together – There are a number of free meditation apps and channels on YouTube that will guide you through how and what to do. It is such a nice way to relax and connect at the same time. 

Try spending a small amount of time together at first and building up as you feel comfortable. Even just 10 minutes together can spark a renewed spirit among your relationship.

Bedtime routine – Go to bed each day with the intention of letting the day’s stressors and irritations behind. Say a few kind words to each other and go to bed with a kiss and a cuddle when you have the chance.  

If you find that your relationship is struggling and it seems difficult to rekindle the romance, online marriage counselling can be helpful in identifying where things started shifting and how to get back into a happier place.  

Wishing you the best,
Dori

Love is Respect

Love is Respect

HOW TO SHOW YOUR PARTNER RESPECT

Love is Respect: The happiest and most stable relationships are those in which respect is present. As a marriage counselor, I have found this to be true time and time again. 

Respect is a word that most of us hear from the time we’re very young. We are taught to respect our elders, to respect people in positions of authority, to respect people that have taught us valuable lessons, to respect our mentors. Why isn’t our partner on this list? When we respect our partner we tell them and show them that they matter to us, that we see them, that we hear them, that we value them not only as our partner but as a human being.

Love is Respect: What Does It Mean to Respect Someone?

The word respect can feel very non-romantic, especially when it’s paired with authoritative relationship dynamics. Not only that, but it can mean something a little different to each person and depending on the situation that it’s present in. 

Respect is built over time; It develops and diminishes based on the interactions or experiences that you have with another person. What makes respect special is that if lost, it can be rebuilt and repaired. It’s ever-changing and growing with the relationship. 

I think if I were to ask you if respect matters in your relationship, most would say that it does. Over my years of working with couples, I have come to notice 2 trends that may arise in regards to respect and love:

  1. Couples will express to me how much they love their partner, but how they lack respect. 
  2. Other couples will talk about the immense respect they feel for their partner, but also share that they have lost the love they once felt. 

There seems to be a disconnect in these relationships between love and respect. If couples are able to bridge the gap between respect and love, respect can be a powerful tool to enhance love within a relationship. So how can we use respect to enhance love? How can we work to increase the respect we show to our partner?

How to Increase Respect in Your Relationship

It is not easy to identify a universal formula for respect that applies to all couples. Sometimes, the longing for respect can feel one-sided, or perhaps each partner may have a different and individualized answer of how respect in the relationship should look. 

While we are all entitled to our definition of respect, there are seven things that every couple can practice to build and encourage respect in their relationship. I’d like to share these seven things we can all do to start increasing the level of respect we show to our partner:

1. Ask for Your Partner’s Opinion

When you ask for your partner’s opinion on any given issue or event that you are dealing with, you are essentially showing your partner that you value their advice. By asking your partner for their opinion and opening up dialogue on something that you’re internally wrestling with, you are actively and intentionally asking for your partner’s help. 

This is not to say that you couldn’t figure it out on your own, but that you truly value what they have to say and what they offer the relationship – especially in times of need. 

2. Accept Your Partner’s Influence in Your Relationship

Accepting influence is about sharing power in the relationship. This can be for decisions and beliefs that impact your relationship as well as individual decisions and beliefs. When we accept influence we take our partner’s opinions and feelings into account. Accepting influence doesn’t mean you have to agree with everything your partner says or feels. By accepting influence we show that we believe our partner adds value to our life.

3. Seek to Understand Your Partner

As a marriage counselor, couples who struggle to show respect will enter our beginning sessions expressing that their partner “doesn’t understand me” or “doesn’t understand why/how this affects me” or even “doesn’t understand what I put up with.” It can be easy, especially in long-term relationships, to think that we know everything that’s going on with our partner but to never actually ASK the other person “how are feeling about this” or “what does this mean to you?” or “can you help me understand?”

As we seek to understand our partner better, there are 2 main things we can do. First, we can ask questions to better understand what it is that our partner is feeling or experiencing. 

Secondly, we can rephrase what we are understanding (“what I hear you saying is…”) rather than using the phrase, “I understand.” 

I often see couples skip the step of understanding their partner and jump to finding a solution or critiquing. I like to encourage my couples clients to take the time to slow a conversation down and work to understand what their partner thinks, feels, believes, values, etc.. In doing this, we show our partner that they’re important to us – We show them that they’re worth our time, and isn’t that the most powerful form of respect and love?

[Here's more on: Communication that Connects]

4. Express Gratitude Towards Your Partner

A powerful tool that is on the tip of your tongue is gratitude. By expressing gratitude you are acknowledging that the efforts your partner puts into the relationship has a positive impact on you and that you notice them. Expressing gratitude shows that you value their efforts. 

Instead of “Happy to see you finally took the trash out” try, “I appreciate you taking the trash out.” It doesn’t have to be a grand expression, it can be as simple as, “I appreciate you…” When your partner feels appreciated, they feel seen. Is gratitude the fix all for marital strife? Absolutely not, but it does make a lasting impression and provides encouragement through the growth process. 

5. Show Your Partner Love that is Meaningful to Them

Be intentional about how you show your partner love. When your efforts match what your partner perceives as love it will be more meaningful to them. This often requires practice because how your partner accepts love may not be what comes most naturally to you. We naturally like to give love the same way that we like to receive love, but we all receive love differently. If you are unsure of how your partner feels most loved, ask them. 

Intentionally loving your partner shows them that they matter to you, that you’re willing to think about and act in ways that are most meaningful to them. It shows that you’re willing to put in extra effort that they find meaningful.

6. Use Care and Consideration When Providing Feedback

Every relationship requires feedback from time to time. A romantic partnership though requires a level of care and consideration when providing feedback. I like to remind couples that this is the most precious relationship that they have, and it should encourage vulnerability and openness. However, when feedback is expressed in a negative, angry, or disrespectful way – that vulnerable and open relationship reacts by throwing up walls and reflecting that negative, angry, and disrespectful behavior back. This cycle can be damaging to the relationship beyond repair if not kept in check.

By expressing feedback in a caring and considerate way you’re showing that you are aware of the impact you have on your partner and your relationship and that this impact matters to you. 

When you are kind and considerate in the way you provide feedback to your partner, you are showing that you believe you are equals. When we don’t use care and consideration we create an unhealthy power dynamic in which we send the message that we believe we’re superior to our partner. Whether or not you actually believe you are, that precedent can then greatly impact your connection down the road. 

7. Tell Your Partner That You Love Them and Why

Not only is it important to tell your partner how you feel about them and your relationship, but also it’s helpful to tell them why. I often hear couples say, “Well, it goes without saying.” More often than not, a partner’s response to that statement is something along the lines of, “I had no idea!” If you ever feel that something positive about your partner goes without saying, say it anyway – they would love to hear it (as I’m sure you would too!). 

As we do these seven things we will begin to not only show more respect but also have the ability to deepen the level of love we actually feel towards our partner. Respect is something we can always work towards deepening to enhance our relationship. As we show more respect we will have happier and more stable relationships.

Warmly, 

Hunter Tolman

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How to Not Lose Yourself in a Relationship

How to Not Lose Yourself in a Relationship

How to Not Lose Yourself in a Relationship

Independent vs. codependent

As a marriage counselor and relationship coach, I have couples seek help around codependency tendencies. Usually, either one or both partners in this situation are experiencing intense feelings of disruption and “loss of control” within the relationship because either one partner (or both) is not meeting the other’s expectations. These expectations aren’t necessarily wrong, but they are approached and managed in an unhealthy way. 

Falling in love, building a bond, and caring for your connection doesn’t mean that you have to give up who you are. Your way of being and relating to the world may shift because now you’re incorporating another person into your life – but it’s essential not to lose yourself in your relationship and allow your partner space to be themself.

What Healthy Independence Looks Like in a Relationship

If you are like many of my couples clients, you love your partner, and the relationship is generally good. The struggle you may be running into is that either you or your partner lean on the “independent side” while the other partner tends to be more “dependent” on the relationship. This dynamic in a relationship (if not appropriately addressed and understood) can cause tension and resentment among one or both partners. 

It’s common to both desire a healthy relationship while being concerned that being in a partnership would negatively affect your ability to live life the way you enjoy. While it may seem that to be in a relationship, you have to sacrifice your independence; it is actually that same independence that will allow the relationship to grow in healthy ways and thrive! What you bring to the table, and likely what your partner will fall in love with, is unique to who you are, and to give that up would be detrimental. 

Healthy independence in a committed relationship looks like individual hobbies, personal growth, and personal goals and dreams that you continue to pursue and support one another in. Healthy independence also looks like keeping a self-care routine focused on your individual health and happiness needs. 

[Here’s more on: How to Develop Your Self-Identity and Experience Personal Growth in a Committed Relationship]

Communicating Your Needs

Relationships may require compromise, and talking through what’s important to both of you is the first step to getting on the same page. This conversation may feel uncomfortable at first, so consider these helpful talking points when addressing the topic of independence in your relationship to get you started:

  • Communicate with your partner about why certain aspects of independence are important to you 
  • Talk to them about the ways you both can still identify as individuals while also creating a relationship together
  • Set healthy boundaries within yourself and between others

Sometimes, what we need to hear is what our partner loves about us specifically. Reminding your partner of the unique characteristics, hobbies, and personality traits you love about them can encourage personal growth and a greater understanding of where you are coming from. 

When you communicate your needs, boundaries, and concerns, you give your partner space to feel comfortable doing the same. Once you’ve communicated your needs, encourage your partner to do the same. This may require time and an on-going conversation, but with practice, you’ll both feel a little more comfortable having this conversation each time. 

Letting Go of Control

Suppose you find yourself struggling with codependent behaviors in your relationship. In that case, it’s important to remember that you are not inherently bad and that you have the power to choose to do things differently moving forward. At the root of codependency, attempts to change or control your partner usually stem from care for both yourself and your relationship. However, in an effort to control the other person, you yourself often wind up feeling let down, exhausted, and desperate for a true connection with your partner. 

If you are struggling with codependency, you’re not alone. It’s actually quite common. The first step in repairing and creating greater trust in your relationship is introspection. 

Ask yourself these questions:

  • What events or people have caused me to feel out of control in the past? What emotions did this cause me to feel?
  • How am I benefitting from attempting to control my partner?
  • What am I afraid will happen if I give up my control attempts?
  • In what ways does my effort to have control actually end up controlling me (emotionally, mentally, physically)?

You may not be able to control your partner, but what you are always in control of are yourself and your decisions. Exploring these questions’ answers with a mental health professional’s help is an excellent start to getting the relationship you desire. 

Let's Talk. Schedule a Free Consultation Today.

 

Common Codependent Signs

As you are getting to know someone, it’s important to keep in mind that we are all human. We all have bad days, feel difficult emotions, and handle these emotions in various ways (that we may not be proud of every single time). However, witnessing these isolated events looks very different than viewing repeated patterns of behaviors. 

Everyone is unique; therefore, codependent behaviors show up in many different ways, but here are a few common signs that someone may be struggling with codependency: 

  • Blaming their current circumstances, emotions, or mood entirely on others or completely on themselves
  • Taking on the feelings of others as their own and allowing it to affect them deeply 
  • Spending time searching for unwarranted answers to other people’s problems or having a “fix it” mentality out of fear that others will leave them
  • Attempting to control situations or others through helplessness, guilt, coercion, advice-giving, manipulation, domination, or threats
  • Looking to their relationships to provide all of the “good feelings” they experience

Building Trust in Your Relationship

Just as your partner can’t change you, you can’t change your partner. If your partner exhibits codependent behaviors, it’s crucial that you have a solid concept of your boundaries and what is/isn’t your job. While neither partner is responsible for the other person, BOTH partners are responsible for seeking solutions that make their relationship a healthy and safe one. If you notice within your relationship that your partner exhibits codependent behaviors, here are some tips to help support them on their journey:

  • Model what healthy boundaries with others and yourself look like.
  • Do not attempt to “fix” your partner, but rather focus on how the relationship can be improved with the addition of boundaries. Have conversations about what you each desire out of the relationship-it’s likely that you both want to have a healthy relationship, but you may have differing definitions of how to get there.
  • Encourage your partner to process the previous events and people in their lives who made them feel out of control with a professional.

By starting the conversation and keeping it open, your relationship can grow through this challenge and come out stronger on the other side. Many relationships that struggle with codependency and work through the challenge, developing healthier communication, boundaries, and understanding, actually experience happier, healthier relationships (professional, friendships, family) and are more likely to feel satisfied and successful in life. 

[Want more on “How to Have Difficult Conversations” – Check out this blog here: How to Have Difficult Conversations]

How to Not Lose Yourself in a Relationship

“You complete me” is considered among the most romantic phrases that can be exchanged, but it’s also confused many people regarding what a good, healthy partnership looks like. Each person brings unique, vital elements of themselves as individuals, and to give up oneself would be a detriment to the relationship! At the same time, it’s normal to worry about what it will look like to take another person’s preferences, characteristics, and habits into account, especially when they will likely clash with your own. Here are some helpful questions to ask both yourself and your partner when you find yourselves in this very situation:

  • What areas of my life am I willing to compromise on vs. areas I am not willing to compromise? Why are these areas important to me?
  • What are some ways I can continue to show up for myself and my partner?
  • Is showing up for myself hurting my relationship or my partner? If not, how can I release any feelings of guilt I may have for honoring my own needs?  

At the end of the day, each partner’s independence allows for the relationship to grow in healthy ways and thrive!

Wishing you the best,

Parsa Shariati, MMFT

For Journaling Prompts & Conversation Starters, Download this PDF Here:

Journaling Prompts & Convo Starters_ How to Not Lose Yourself in a Relationship

online marriage counseling Tennessee, relationship coach Tennessee, online couples therapy, online premarital counselor

Whether working together in couples therapy, dating coaching, life coaching, or therapy, Parsa Shariati, MMFT is here to walk alongside you on your journey towards a thriving life and relationship.

Real Help For Your Relationship

Lots of couples go through challenging times, but the ones who turn "rough-patches" into "growth moments" can come out the other side stronger and happier than ever before.

 

Working with an expert couples counselor can help you create understanding, empathy and open communication that felt impossible before.

 

Start your journey of growth together by scheduling a free consultation.

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Grow Together, Or Grow Apart

Grow Together, Or Grow Apart

Grow Together, Or Grow Apart

Grow Together, or Grow Apart:

Why Right Now May Be a “Make or Break Moment” For Your Relationship

Grow Together, or Grow Apart

Is your relationship growing together, or growing apart? As a Denver marriage counselor and online relationship coach, I am highly aware that the current circumstances of the world are putting a unique type of stress on relationships. Many couples are using this pressure to grow stronger than ever before. Other couples are growing apart, and may never recover.

On this episode of the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast I'm discussing the seemingly inconsequential “make or break moments” that will either strengthen your relationship or tear it apart. Listen now so that YOU can be intentional and self-aware about what's happening in your own relationship.

Relationships Under Stress

The ongoing global health crisis of Covid 19 plus the turmoil and uncertainty in the world right now is putting stress on everyone, both as individuals but also as a couple. We're dealing with more stress and anxiety, but without the protective factors that we usually have to soothe ourselves and practice good self care. We have a swarm of new things to figure out, and may be dealing with heightened fear or anxiety, job loss, health issues, and for many of us, grief.

To cope, we find ourselves turning toward our number #1 people for support — our partners, or our closest friend, or go-to family member. If we reach out in these moments and connect with the love, empathy, emotional safety and responsiveness that helps us feel calmer, safer and more supported…. our relationships are strengthened. If we reach out but feel criticized, judged, uncared for alone… it creates mistrust and emotional damage.

What's happening in the moments when YOU try to reach out lately? Does it feel healing? Or harmful?

Healthy vs Unhealthy Relationships

Great relationships don't just happen, great relationships are grown — moment by moment. Little things matter. All couples have had LOTS of moments lately to either show each other love and respect, solve problems productively, and provide each other with emotional support… or fail at doing any of those. Great relationships don't happen despite difficult circumstances, great relationships are created by overcoming difficulties and challenges together. Couples who do this courageous work together come out stronger and more successful on the other end.

Some couples are achieving this right now…. but some marriages are quietly failing.

Marriage Falling Apart?

If the stress and strain of the current situation is making you feel like you're in a relationship growing apart, that your relationship is becoming unhealthy, or even that your marriage is failing or falling apart you'll definitely want to tune in and get the relationship repair strategies I share including:

  • Why understanding our innate need to love and be loved is key to reconnecting with your partner or spouse. 
  • Gaining self awareness around how positive and negative interactions that you have with your partner affect you (and how you may be impacting them without realizing it).
  • Learn the most consequential “micro-moments” that many couples dismiss as being unimportant (to the detriment of their relationships).
  • Learn about the core principles of a happy and healthy relationship.
  • Gain a deeper understanding of how conflict can strengthen relationships.
  • Recognize what actions make the relationship system work.
  • Learn how to cultivate compassion, empathy and emotional safety in your relationship, and more….

You can listen now by scrolling down to the podcast player at the bottom of this page, or tune in to the “Grow Together, or Grow Apart” relationship podcast on Spotify, on Apple Podcasts, or wherever your like to listen.

All the best,

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

Grow Together, or Grow Apart: Episode Highlights

Our Need for Connection 

Humans are relational. As burdens come, we have a healthy instinct to find comfort with people we love. This may manifest differently in what we receive from others. What holds is these connections build our relationship even further. It's healthy and adaptive to share our burden with others. This is how closeness, connection, and strong, secure attachments are achieved.

When we are in this space of needing support and reach out, our relationships will become strengthened when we're met with responsiveness, empathy, and understanding.However, if we experience judgment, ridicule, or rejection when we reach out in vulnerable moments, our relationships are damaged. It's incredibly important to avoid this at all costs, particularly in stressful moments when your partner needs you.

Feeling Failed by a Loved One 

We often think of relationships as being damaged by fights and conflict, or obviously “regrettable incidents.” While this can be true, what's more common is that our feelings of love and attitudes towards our partners change not only during dramatic moments. Micro-moments can also define our relationships, building from everyday encounters. Small moments of judgment, ridicule, resentment, or silence, or small actions (or inactions) may destroy your relationship in the long run. Without responsiveness in a relationship, we may feel existentially alone.

When your relationship is becoming unhealthy and you're growing apart rather than together, you may find yourself withdrawing from that instinct to connect. Because this is the opposite of our everyday adaptive attachment needs, withdrawing from that instinct is damaging on a deeper level. Couples can end up getting a divorce because they don’t talk about and resolve the most important things during these types of “make or break” moments.

Couple fights don’t always have to be about something big. It may come from even the smallest things. All “conflict” is an opportunity for greater understanding and increased connection. Particularly when we have effective strategies to stay calm, practice radical acceptance, and maintain our empathy for each other, we can turn conflict into connection. 

Here are some strategies that healthy relationships and healthy couples use to achieve this.

Happy and Successful Couples

When we learn acceptance, our relationships grow stronger and healthier — there will be compassion and empathy. What else do happy and successful couples have?

Psychological Flexibility 

We react to situations as they come, allowing us to respond to different situations appropriately. Problems are inevitable, but when you’re psychologically flexible, you can figure out a path through them. This ability to stay in the present, approach problems without preferences, judgments, and other biases tie into our emotional intelligence.

Flexibility allows us to regulate emotions and communicate with our partners. It enables you to stay connected to your partner. If this is an area you need to work on, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or Coaching may help manage these thoughts better.

Kindness and Generosity

According to the Gottman Method of Marriage counseling, when kindness and generosity are at the center of a relationship, couples can:

  • Have empathy for each other 
  • Communicate feelings, thoughts, and needs 
  • Respect each other

What Gottman’s research has found is that you can basically throw 90% of everything else out the window if you keep kindness and generosity at the center of your relationship, that you have kindness and generosity flowing between two people. Treat your partner with the utmost consideration so that you can grow together as a couple and as individuals.

While all of these sound great, do remember that kindness goes beyond your words. You also need to show kindness through your actions. You should also know how your partner needs love and appreciation from you. Once you learn this, make sure to shower them these lavishly.

Empathy

You might understand your own worldview better than you understand your partner’s. Your partner may be more connected with their feelings than you are. Whichever is the case, we should approach our partners without judgment and accept how they make perfect sense in their context and perspective.

Understanding already goes a long way, but it isn’t enough. Make sure that you understand your partner’s feelings and assure them that their feelings are just as valid as yours. It’s not a competition.

Acknowledging our personal feelings will allow us to respect differences within the relationship. When there is respect, it gives room for understanding and appreciation.

Courageous Conversations

In the podcast, I mentioned how one of the most destructive things we can do in a relationship is not talking to each other. We tend to avoid bringing things up out of anger or fear. We bottle them up until we explode. Couples who do this can eventually grow apart. (More on this subject: Withdrawn Partner? How to Talk To Someone Who Shuts Down).

But in a healthy relationship, it’s vital to have conversations about the important things. These aren’t fights or discussions; instead, these are authentic and passionate exchanges of our thoughts, values, and truths. After all, effective communication is crucial to a healthy relationship, and a lack of open communication can create distance.

These conversations can be challenging because people can discover that there are areas of their relationship that feel out of alignment. There are differences in values, perspective, needs, wants, or desires — and that is all okay. (More on “How to Have Difficult Conversations” right here.)

Related to courageous conversations is the concept of emotional safety. It is the most critical component of a healthy relationship. When we have courageous conversations with our partners, and with kindness and empathy, we can give each other an emotionally safe environment that allows us to grow together and be authentic.

Emotional Intelligence

Your ability to understand the thoughts and feelings of others and then respond to them appropriately and effectively depends on not just emotional intelligence but also the foundation of emotional intelligence — self awareness. This is the ability to understand and manage your thoughts and feelings first.

Emotional intelligence is all about being aware of your feelings and surroundings. It is the ability to regulate your emotions. It is also vital for understanding our partners.

Emotional intelligence is powerful. It allows us to: 

  • Become aware of our own and other people’s feelings
  • Regulate emotions
  • Practice empathy, especially during stress and disappointment
  • Establish emotional safety

Respecting the Fact That Relationships Are Systems

Relationships are systems where two individuals respond and react to one another. You and your partner are not existing independently. What we put into the system partly influences our partner’s behavior. When you are aware of this, you understand that your negative actions can also trigger negative responses from your partner. This cyclical nature allows us to adjust and change ourselves to be better instead of forcing our partners.

Steps to Grow

How can you start taking steps to grow your relationship?

You can have your partner listen to this episode and have courageous conversations about things that matter to you most. To help you along the way, you can take our How Healthy is Your Relationship quiz.

If you feel that you are both growing apart no matter how much you try, it’s not too late. You can seek expert relationship advice from a licensed marriage and family therapist. Learn how to find a good marriage counselor here.

More Resources 

We have a comprehensive library of other relationship podcast episodes and relationship advice articles here at GrowingSelf.com, I hope you take advantage of them!

  • How to Have Difficult Conversations – Like courageous conversations, difficult conversations bring people together despite differences in beliefs, feelings, and values. Learn how to have and respond to these difficult conversations. 
  • Emotional Safety – Learn more about how to practice emotional safety for you and your partner.
  • When to Call Quits in a Relationship – Walking away from a relationship can be challenging for many. Listen to this episode of the Love, Happiness and Success podcast to learn when to call it quits.

These trying times are genuinely challenging for everyone. I hope this episode gave you valuable advice on how to improve your relationships. What did you learn and can apply in your life from this episode? We would love to hear your thoughts on the comments below this post. 

Did today's discussion inspire you? Please review, subscribe to, or better yet, share the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast.

Wishing you all the best,

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

Listen & Subscribe to the Podcast

Grow Together, or Grow Apart

by Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby | The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast

Music Credits: Sarah Kang, “More Than Words”

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Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby is the founder and clinical director of Growing Self Counseling and Coaching. She's the author of “Exaholics: Breaking Your Addiction to Your Ex Love,” and the host of The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast.

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Grow Together or Grow Apart: Podcast Transcript

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Access Episode Transcript

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: This is Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby. And you're listening to the Love, Happiness and Success podcast.

 

[More Than Words by Sarah Kang]

 

Isn't that the cutest song? That is Sarah Kang and the song More Than Words, I thought this was a nice segue for us into our topic today, because today I am putting on my marriage counselor hat. And we're going to be talking about relationships, and particularly why this very moment that we are sitting in right now together is a make-or-break moment for a lot of relationships, possibly including yours. 

Grow Together, or Grow Apart

I have to tell you in my perch, my 30,000 foot view as the clinical director of Growing Self Counseling and Coaching, not only do I have my own clients and couples and individuals for therapy and coaching, but I also do a lot of consultation with other marriage counselors and relationship coaches on our team to talk about what's going on and to kind of work together around cases and kind of keep an eye on trends. 

And I'm also listening to you, my dear listeners, who’ve been getting in touch with me on Facebook or Instagram or through our website growingself.com to ask your questions. Often, these are relational questions. And so through all of these various sources and channels of information that I have access to, I have become aware that there is a really important thing happening right now relationally for many, many people. 

Grow Together

And I feel like today's episode of the podcast is almost going to be like a public service announcement in some ways to let you know that right now, there are opportunities to either grow your relationship in like profound and enduring ways. Like what is happening right now between you and your partner, or you and your friends or you and your children or your closest confidence is an opportunity to have a very deep, solid, trusting, connected relationship that will endure for many years to come. Or if you don't handle this moment, as well as you could, this could doom your most important relationships. And I'll tell you why. 

 

We are currently, as I record this in a time of high stress, a lot of uncertainty, a lot of unknowns. There's so many different things happening in the world. And right now we need each other more than ever. And some of us, not me, of course, but, some other people are not behaving always as well as they could due to all the stress again. Not myself personally, because I don't do that sort of thing. But if I was that sort of person, I might be a little higher anxiety right now. I might not have access to all of my self-care routines that usually support me. I haven't had a massage in 10 months. We can't see our friends as much as we want to. 

 

And in addition to just losing some of the niceties of life, jobs are in peril, economic security is in peril. You may have had—like I have—people close to you who have died or become incredibly ill perhaps, you yourself have become incredibly ill. Perhaps you are partnered with someone who, like so many, is experiencing the ramifications of long COVID, who is not okay right now and is still building back to the way things were before and that future feels doubtful. Like there's a lot of really real stuff going on. And I haven't even scratched the surface of social justice and other things. 

Healthy vs Unhealthy Relationships

Anyway, but the point is, we are all dealing with a lot. And because humans—we humans are so relational. In our moments of stress and strain, we have these instincts, these healthy, normal, adaptive, resilient instincts to turn towards each other, to come together in these moments of difficulty and share the burdens with the people that we love the most and who love us the most. This can take so many forms in a relationship. It can mean talking about how you feel. Laying on the floor sobbing while somebody pats you on your back. It can look like so many different things. It can look like being kind of quiet, not really wanting to talk, not being your usual fun, bouncy self, withdrawing, like so many forms. 

 

But the point is that in these moments, we need each other. And when we are in this space of needing support, and we reach out for that support in whatever form it may take, and connect with someone who cares about us, who sees us, who has compassion for what we're going through without judgment, without criticism, without telling us we should cheer up or feel differently, or any of the things—when we connect with that kind of energy, and experience true love in the form of empathy and compassion. And then when that understanding is followed up by responsiveness, like, hearing what we're saying, and giving us what we're saying that we need, that moment, that 90 seconds of relational interaction is like welding you emotionally together in your relationship. You reached out, you connected, your needs were met, and it was this, “I am loved. I'm safe. I'm secure. We are together in this. I love you. I'm so grateful to have you in my life.”

 

It's these kinds of micro moments that we're all dealing with. And the good news is that many of us are getting them from our partners and because of this, are developing a deep, deep enduring appreciation and gratitude for our relationships and the steadfast love of our partners through thick and thin.

Why Marriages Fail

In the same 90 seconds span, there are lots of people reaching out in healthy ways, and maybe in some not so constructive ways. And we'll talk about that too, but reaching out saying “I'm not okay.” And being met with silence, rejection, ridicule, resentment, hostility, criticism, or just nothing at all. Or somebody saying, “Yes, sorry, you feel that way.” But there's no responsiveness. There's no movement to kind of come together in honor of what someone is communicating. 

Couples Who Grow Apart

Those micro moments, it is like a machete hacking through the fabric of a relationship. Nothing dramatic may happen in that moment but every time it does, there's a slice to the core that says, “I'm not understood. I'm not cared for. I'm not safe. I can't trust this person. I can't talk to this person. Even if I can talk to this person, it doesn't matter because either they don't care, they don't care enough. They're not doing anything to help me. Never mind.” And there's this withdrawing. This basic, basic experience of being profoundly alone. And like not just alone-alone, but like existentially alone, like “where is the person I am sharing this with? Who is here for me? What do I do?” And this particularly for us collectively minded humans, if you have any attachment needs at all—healthy, normal adaptive attachment needs, it is incredibly painful and damaging on so many different levels. 

 

I am aware right now that I'm being very dramatic as I talk about this. But like I have this feeling almost of urgency and this is why I really wanted to talk with you guys about this today. And you know, partly this was prompted. I have to tell you. 

Online Marriage Counseling and Couples Therapy

So here at Growing Self as you know, I'm sure if you've listened to this podcast more than like half a time. We really specialize in marriage counseling, couples therapy, relationship Coaching. So I would say, 70- 80% of our clients are couples who are either seeking to improve their relationship or they are individual coaching or therapy clients who are coming to us because they need to make some decisions about their relationships. Or like maybe their partners won't come into couples counseling with them, so they're here on their own trying to see if they can make something better. Or if that fails, they're having very honest conversations with us about what they want to do with this—if their relationships can be improved. 

 

So a lot of this going on. I think that we've seen a flood of couples coming into our practice, because I think many, many people and couples have become acutely aware that when everything else falls apart, at the end of the day, like really, all we have is each other. And particularly in this quarantine pandemic experience, like, the people that you live with. Be it your romantic partner, your husband, your wife, your boyfriend, your parents even—it's like this, sort of family experience, either if it's the family, you were born into the family that you chose, the family that you created.

It's like, our most important relationships have become dramatically important. I mean, it's really illuminating how crucial and important these relationships are. It's like this boat that you're floating on together in the midst of this ocean that's chaotic and dangerous, and in ways both emotional and literal. 

 

There's this, I think, renewed importance of relationships right now. And so lots of couples coming in, who are committed to their relationships and are realizing like, “We need to do everything that we can to make this good for both of us and have a happy, healthy relationship.” 

How to Fix an Unhealthy Relationship

Also, seeing interestingly, people coming in like adult children with their parents wanting to improve those relationships and deal with some unfinished business, which is always a positive thing. A lot of dating coaching clients who are like, “I'm feeling extremely ready to be in a relationship, what do I need to do to get there?” But again, this other subset of people coming in, figuring out—because they have had experiences with their partners, particularly over the last few months when they've needed their partners so much, and felt like their relationships were failing them. And really just at their wit's end and not knowing not knowing what to do and wanting to get clarity to make a plan one way or the other. 

 

Anyway, this is what has been happening in our practice. And then I had a journalist reach out to me a little while ago, and this happens from time to time, and they're like, “Hey, working on a story about”—this is somebody from, I don’t know, NBC, CBS, one of them, a reporter. It was like, “Hey, I'm working on a story because there's data out right now showing that divorce rates are down.” And the journalist’s angle was like, there was all this talk at the beginning of the pandemic about how much stress and strain this is putting on relationships, and how so many marriages were doomed because of it. And now there's all this data showing that divorce rates are down across the board. “Dr. Bobby, can we have your comment?” So like, “Okay, sure.” 

 

Because it's true. It's true that, again, many couples in this space have had this fork in the road moment, where they have had to figure out how to have difficult conversations about important things that really do need to be hashed out and resolved. They have been spending more time together. You're not running out the door to go to a happy hour with your friends. You are at home with the person that you live with. And so it's spending more time together, figuring out what to do to make life meaningful and good for both of you. Maybe getting reengaged with quiet activities that can help you kind of connect, and even if it's just cooking dinner at home and having a nice conversation. Like these are small, intimate moments that I think many relationships have benefited from. There is a quietness that has settled over our lives that in some ways has been really good because the focus can be on the relationship and on your family. Instead of running around with 97 different friends and these different activities like there's a lot of quiet time at home, and it's good for conversations and for connection. 

 

I think too, when people feel stress and anxiety, there is this natural inclination to bond and to connect and to share. And it goes so deep within us that it's almost an instinctive, reflexive, like, “Where's my person?” in these moments of stress. And I think that because of this, this is part of the reason why divorce rates are down, is because many couples have a renewed sense of appreciation for each other. And I think like this sort of big picture highlight of when everything else falls apart, I can count on you. I can count on this family through thick. And it has really renewed people's commitment to do everything in their power to have a really healthy, high quality relationship, because it matters so much. 

 

As part of this podcast, I'm going to be giving you very specific information about things that you can do at home today within the next 30 minutes of hearing the sound of my voice in order to invest really good things into your most important relationships because we need each other right now. We need each other.

 

But, so going back to this interview with this journalist who was like, “Divorce rates are down and people decided that during the pandemic, they loved each other. Didn't want to get divorced anymore.” I was like, “Yes. And let me tell you about the other side of this, Mr. Journalist.” And I think honestly, he wasn't really expecting this perspective because on the surface of it, the data says, “Yes, fewer people are getting divorced.” That's a good thing. 

 

However… he has not been privy to the same kinds of intimate conversations that I have with so many people, my counseling and coaching clients, and being in these consultation groups with other people in the team. And what we're hearing over and over again, is the part of the shoe that hasn't yet dropped, which is the other side of this equation. And I know, this is probably true for so many of you also that, that you have experienced probably, in some ways, your worst nightmare over the last few months. Not just in the circumstances of life, but in your relationship, right? That you have felt failed by your partner. You have felt emotionally rejected at the time that you needed the most. And you have felt this wounding that has probably taken your breath away, like, “Oh! Oh my god, did that just how did that just happen?” And again, it doesn't have to be some big crap show fight, right? It can be the smallest things. 

 

I have had people tell me that, and think about it, this is so understandable, a lot of anxiety about getting sick. And in this terrible pandemic and they're really worried about things like keeping their environment relatively safe, as safe as any of us can. So wearing masks when you go places, washing your hands, doing things around the house to keep things a little bit cleaner than usual. And it is totally okay to have a spectrum of comfort with different levels of safety. And there may or may not be an objective truth right now that like, “this is what everybody should be doing.” 

 

So, that aside, what I'm always more focused on is the relational piece of this, which is that one person is saying, “I'm scared. If you did this with me, it would help me feel a little bit less scared. Can I count on you to do this with me?” And the other person says, either “No, that's stupid. Oh my god, really? You're such a pain in the ass, like, why?” Or arguing with them about how it doesn't make sense. Or saying “Yes, sure.” And then just not doing it. I mean, there are these tiny little moments over things that do not seem like that big of a deal but when you look at it through this relational lens, it is this big existential question like, “Do you love me?  Do you understand me? Do you see me? Do you hear me? Do you care about me and how I feel? Am I important to you? Can I trust you when I am scared, and I need help?” Like, these are very fundamental foundational attachment kinds of wounds. 

 

And so there are couples, all over the place, where these kinds of things are happening in many different ways. It could be somebody can't tolerate the other person being anxious or sad or worried and shuts it down, like, “Nope, look at this funny cat meme. Look, look, it's a kitten eating a popsicle.” Or whatever. Like trying to change the subject, trying to fix things, cheer people up. 

Radical Acceptance to Strengthen Relationships

In a recent podcast episode, if you recall, if you're a regular listener of mine, we talked about radical acceptance and how being able to just hold the space with someone is the most important and healing thing any of us can do, as opposed to trying to, like make people feel better talk them out of their feelings. Like, it feels like rejection when somebody does that to you. But that's happening all over the place. And there are so many other little things that are happening within families, within homes that might not seem like a big deal, but are a very big deal.

 

In many homes, particularly, if it's a heterosexual couple, and there are children involved, many children—women are feeling extremely burdened with all of the things. And this has been a huge growth moment for many couples to reorganize the way they do things. If everybody's working at home, how do we divvy up the responsibilities in a way that really feels equitable and fair for both of us? So this has been a growth moment for so many couples to be like, “Okay, what we're doing right now is not actually working because I'm not getting anything done. Neither you, what do we need to do here? Our children's needs aren't getting met.” And it's been a really good thing, because it's led to more fairness, teamwork. Every couple needs to create a set of agreements around like, “Okay, I changed the litter box, you clean the toilets, and this is when it's going to happen.” Like in order just to have a functional life together, that some of that has to happen. And, and this has been one of those make-or-break moments for couples to figure that out. And lots of couples have very happily with or without the support of a relationship coach, right. 

Healthy Relationships Prioritize Trust

But there are other couples who have really struggled to do this. And it could be the smallest thing from somebody saying, “Yes, I'll be done with work at 3, and then I'll take the kids, and you can do your thing from 3-5” and then, like, okay, so the person is like, “Okay, I'm going to count on this.” And then their partner who said they would be done at 3, comes wandering in at 3: 45. And, like, “What's for dinner?” I mean, it's like, “Wah!”, and it seems like such small inconsequential things. But again, it's the same big underlying themes of, “I can't trust you. We had a plan. We had an agreement and I am being harmed by your failure to follow through with what we agreed on.” And these seem like such small things, but they erode the fabric of a relationship that leads to resentment. It leads to hostility. It leads to a reduction in the things that keep a relationship good. 

 

It's hard to be kind and generous and empathetic to someone when they are not holding up their end of the bargain the way they said they would, right? And so, there are all kinds of negatives like relational cycle that can start spinning out from those micro moments like little mini dervishes. And so, these small, small things are highly consequential, and many couples are experiencing these like, death by a thousand cuts kind of moments. 

 

Some people are acutely aware that that is happening and they are here at Growing Self, talking to their therapists about what this means for the future of their relationship. And some people are just beginning to get very weary and very disappointed and starting to pull away emotionally and feel more distant and disconnected from the partners that are showing them that they cannot be counted on. That is happening quietly in many homes right now as we speak, perhaps even yours. And so, this is again that like do or die, grow together, or grow apart kind of moment that you're faced with now. 

 

And I also want to say, just to normalize all of this, all relationships have, I'm using my finger air quotes right now “that all have issues,” right? All relationships have things that are nice, things that are not so nice, challenges, and strengths. This is just what it means to be a human being in a relationship. We are all a mixed bag. And our partners are all a mixed bag. And all relationships are a configuration of the best and worst of both of us, right? And so, the point isn't that you have some sort of hypothetically perfect relationship where none of this stuff ever happens, that is not a reality-based idea. 

 

What it is, is what do you do in these moments that are an opportunity to grow closer together, or to grow apart? Because if you don't do anything, and just let things fall, where they may—while all relationships have issues and have strengths, and also have growth opportunities, as we like to say around here, stress will illuminate all of the cracks and fissures and fractures. So stress doesn't necessarily create the problems, but it will reveal the problems more acutely. Because again, when we depend on each other for so much more, and there's so much less that we have in the rest of our lives, our relationships, hobbies, my massages, right? Like we notice when we're not getting our needs met from our partner that much more acutely when we're so much more dependent. 

 

This is a real opportunity to take stock of a relationship and say, “Okay, these are the parts that are working for both of us. These are the parts that aren't working really well for me right now. Let's talk about what's feeling okay, and not okay for you. So that we can work together to improve the situation for both of us because if we don't, if we just let it go and keep doing to each other what we have been, this isn't going to work out long term.”

Stop a Divorce and Save Your Marriage

I don't mean this to sound scary, but I have talked to so many people over the last few months who have said very plainly and clearly, “I am no longer interested in being married to this person. I can't trust them. When I really needed them, they weren't there for me. I've tried everything I know how to do to improve the situation, I don't think it's possible to improve it. But circumstantially, this is not a good time for me to get divorced. It's financially—I don't even want to go look at apartments right now, with the masks and disease and all that. I don't want to have to deal with finding a different childcare situation for my kids. Financially, it feels safer for me to just stay put right now. But, this is just me, waiting until the time is right. But I know very clearly that I am done and that we are getting divorced as soon as possible.” 

 

They're saying that to me, they're not saying that to their partner. Their partner may have no idea what's going on. Their partner might not understand the micro wounds that has led to this person sitting with me to be firmly and clearly convinced that they're done with this relationship. So yes, divorce rates are down. And there is this thing simmering under the surface that has yet to grow into fruition. 

 

I want to change gears now that I've hopefully impressed upon you the importance of taking this moment seriously if you would like to remain married or partnered or in a connected relationship with a person that you're thinking of right now. We're going to talk about that. 

 

Just as a side note, because I know that many people are sort of on the down low thinking about or actually making plans to get divorced once we're past this. I have actually—had sought out— why can I say this? I'm just going to say this. There is a divorce lawyer who's based in Denver—a Denver divorce lawyer who's incredibly, not just knowledgeable, but really ethical and extremely honest. I had the great pleasure of interviewing her a little bit ago. And it's such an interesting conversation. She absolutely spilled the beans around things to think about if you are entertaining the possibility of divorce. We talked a lot about strategies to create an amicable divorce situation, a collaborative divorce, which is the best possible outcome, if you're going to get divorced is figuring out a way to part as, if not friends, at least, yet still have some kind of relationship at the end of it. Particularly if you're going to be co-parenting with each other or have a business together. So we talked a lot about that. 

 

She also offered a lot of her insights into the aspects of divorce, the experiences of divorce that people don't think about before they pull the trigger. Really great questions to ask a divorce lawyer, I asked them for you. And so if you've, if you have been leaning in this direction, I do hope you join me for that podcast. I'm going to be airing it next week. So look out for that. 

 

But for the rest of you who believe that there's still a glimmer of hope for your relationship that maybe it has felt like it's been sliding down the unhappy path towards disconnection, towards disappointment towards growing apart, I want to discuss some ideas that will help you begin to turn this around and begin to use this opportunity to grow back together again. 

 

Because I tell you what, and if you take nothing else from this podcast, take this: relationships that are good and healthy and happy, don't have any less problems than anybody else's. They are not relationships with two highly evolved people, who just don't have the same weird quirks and things that the rest of us do. And great relationships don't come into being because they don't have issues, problems, or circumstances that are difficult. Great relationships happen because of all of those things. They are grown through difficult circumstances. They are grown through facing challenges together. They are grown through having very difficult conversations and figuring out how to solve problems together. Great relationships are grown by very intentionally, doing certain things at critical moments that strengthen a relationship. And strong relationships are stronger for having gone through challenges together and having worked through difficult issues together. 

 

People who are in new relationships that have been together for six months, not to knock it, it's fun, and it's cute, being in love and all that good stuff is lovely. But that is not nearly as strong, or as deep or as intimate of a relationship as the kind that couples create because of having gone through the crappy crap together and come out the other side successfully. That's the path to creating a deep relationship—is not avoiding the problems or not trying to create a relationship without any problems. It is addressing them courageously and also competently. So this is good news for a relationship. Because of all the hard stuff right now, this is the path to creating the kind of relationship that you would really like. 

 

Let's talk now about some strategies for how specifically to do that. There are several things that you can do in order to create a healthier relationship and to have growth moments with your partner. 

 

So first of all, and I would also just like to back up a second and say this is not my opinion, the things I’m going to share with you. These are things that are based in research. There are all kinds of self-proclaimed relationship coaches everywhere, who just like basically make crap up. I am not one of them. I am a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, in addition to being a relationship coach. And I myself, like the rest of the couples, counselors on my team here at Growing Self, exclusively practice evidence-based forms of marriage counseling, couples therapy, and relationship coaching. So we are looking at what do we know from fact that helps couples form healthy, happy relationships? And how do we guide couples through having these very specific experiences and new skill sets offered to them so that they can replicate these positive outcomes. So that is what we're doing here. 

 

And also, I've mentioned this before, but myself and the people on our team here at Growing Self are really specialists in marriage counseling and couples’ therapy. So it’s like even get in the door to be able to be a couple's counselor here at Growing Self, you have to at minimum, have a master's degree in Couples and Family Therapy. So like not just being a garden variety therapist, you have to have specialized education and training. You have to be eligible for licensure as a marriage and family therapist, which is 1000 to 2000 hours of postgraduate experience seeing couples and families under the supervision of a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. 

 

I think we have two people on our team who offer couples counseling, who are not licensed Marriage and Family Therapists. And the only reason they're here is because they have done extensive postgraduate training in couples and family therapy that is really the equivalent to what they would have learned if they'd done a master's degree in couples and family therapy. 

 

So I just want to preface what I'm about to share with you through that lens because I think that it's wise for you to be discerning about where you're getting your information, particularly when it comes to something as important as your most important relationship. Because when it's like really real and very serious, date nights are not going to cut it, they're going to make things worse instead of better. 

 

So, anyway, sorry, I'm going to get off my hysterical soapbox, now. So let me tell you, they're the fork in the road moment, the fork in the road, there is the happy path towards growing together, there is the unhappy path of growing apart. What we know from research is that there are very, very specific and important things that happy successful couples do within themselves and within their relationship. 

Psychological Flexibility

First of all, we know that one of the most important factors for having a great relationship is something called psychological flexibility. Psychological flexibility, and this refers to the ability to be able to kind of like shift gears and stay in the present, not get overly attached to specific outcomes, or rules or shoulds, or muster black and white thinking. But rather be able to kind of take things as they come and make decisions and react to situations that are in alignment with your most deeply held values.

 

So that means, being able to let go sometimes of your preferences, or the way that you think things should be. And being able to come into the center of “We're having a problem. I'm unhappy about this. And I love my partner. I want this to be a good outcome for both of us. What do I need to do in order to create that?” 

 

It kind of ties in to emotional intelligence, which is one of the things we're also going to be talking about, but psychological flexibility, I think, is a very important component of emotional intelligence because it has less to do about how you feel, and even what you do compared to what you think and being able to have a flexible mindset, where you can sort of shift gears cognitively to be able to like handle appropriately whatever is coming up in the moment, either from your circumstances or from your relationship or inside of yourself. And having some mastery around what's going on between your ears so that you can stay in a good enough place. And you can also be flexible and responsive to whatever’s going on with your partner right now. 

 

The opposite of this is extreme rigidity and getting very bent out of shape when things don't go your way. Or when your preferences aren't always accommodated and having big feelings and reacting from those feelings as opposed to being able to kind of mediate cognitively what's going on and what you would like to think and being able to reach for a more helpful thought instead.

 

So, I mean, look it up yourself—psychological flexibility in relationships is huge. And if this is a growth area for either you or your partner, you might consider getting involved in cognitive slash cognitive behavioral therapy, or cognitive behavioral coaching. There is such a thing as evidence-based coaching. It is not for the treatment of mental illness. It is for people who would like to develop things like cognitive flexibility, and be able to manage their thoughts in a way that feel better for them. So there's that. 

 

And when you're able to practice psychological flexibility, it allows you to regulate your emotions, communicate effectively, and most importantly, work with your partner to find productive solutions to inevitable problems. The problems are inevitable. It's just when you're psychologically flexible, you can figure out a path through them, staying connected to your partner. 

 

And when couples can do this together, they're really able to stay aligned through thick and thin, because life throws a lot of stuff at us. And there are lots of times when things don't work out the way we'd quite like them to or when our partner isn't being the way we would want them to be and is being able to shift gears and be appropriately responsive to what is actually happening. 

Kindness and Generosity

Okay, another key core thing. If you want to take your relationship down the happy path right now, is to be practicing kindness and generosity. That sounds fluffy. I know it does. But here's this. One of the most prolific and well-respected researchers in the field of marriage and family therapy is Dr. John Gottman, he's written about 97 books, are all amazing. He has developed a evidence based form of marriage counseling called the Gottman Method of Marriage Counseling. The Gottman method is different from other kinds of marriage counseling in the sense that is extremely behavioral. It is very coachy. And so a lot of what we do here Growing Self with Relationship Coaching is based on the Gottman model, because it's so amenable to kind of a coaching model. Again, not for mental health stuff, but for more of a coaching focus. 

 

And what Gottman his research has found is that you can basically throw 90% of everything else out the window if you keep kindness and generosity at the center of your relationship. If you have kindness and generosity flowing between two people, nothing else matters quite as much. Like, you can have bad communication, you can not have date nights, you could not do a lot of other things that you would think would be very destructive to a relationship. But I mean, obviously relationships are better when you do have those things. But if you have kindness and generosity, in ample amounts, you're going to be okay. 

 

And so what do I mean by that? Kindness and generosity is when you very deliberately make efforts to treat your partner with consideration, with kindness. And like, being able to—this is actually connected to the next thing but like, have a lot of empathy for how they're feeling, what they're needing right now, even if that is different from what you are needing or wanting, and to be able to give that to them, and communicate your respect for how they're feeling and what they're needing through—here's the important part—not just your words, but your actions. And that's where this generosity piece comes in, which is being able to give things to your partner generously, that are what they need and want from you. There's generosity there. 

 

And there needs to be balance in a relationship at a certain point like it's nice and we get our needs met in return. But in a relationship where you are focusing on kindness and generosity, what you are getting or not getting is not always going to be your number one priority. You're going to be thinking, “Wow, what, I'd really like to have more conversations with my husband. And I know that he is not okay right now. He is not feeling good. I know that he's super stressed at work. I think he feels bad about what's happening to us financially right now. And I know, because I know him, that when he gets into that space, he goes internal. It is not easy for him to talk about things like this.

What can I do to show him that I understand that, that actually, when he is checking out and playing Fortnight for three hours at night, he is maybe doing that, because it's his way of trying to manage some of the stress right now. How do I show him that I get that, and that I love him, and that I want him to have what he needs? You know what? I am going to bring him a big bowl of popcorn and put it right next to his video game chair and just kind of wave and give him a kiss on the cheek and let him know that I love him and that I am so happy that he is playing Fortnight with a bunch of 14 year olds right now.” Can you tell that I'm a Fortnight widow, my husband and son playing fortnight constantly. I get stressed out but I try to play any video games or I have to shoot at someone or I get shot at. I’m like a candy crush person, 100%. 

 

But it's like how do we be generous with our partners when they are showing us what we need from them as opposed to getting all resentful and demanding when we're not getting what we need. Right? That will be a quick, quick turn down the unhappy path if we stay focused on that kind of opposite of kindness and generosity, which is sort of selfishness and self-focus and lack of empathy. So how does your partner feel loved and appreciated by you? If you don't know the answer to that question, find out and then lavish them with it every chance you can. 

Empathy

Another core piece of a healthy, happy relationship with a couple that grows together. And it's related to kindness and generosity, certainly, but it's this core piece of empathy, which is not just understanding how your partner feels or how your loved one feels. It doesn't have to be your partner, it could be your child, it could be your parent, it could be your friend. But, “I understand how you feel and how you feel is valid. And how you feel is important.” 

 

It's not quite enough to just get that someone else is sad or afraid. True empathy goes into, “If I were to put myself in their proverbial shoes and look at the world, through their eyes, through their set of life experiences, through their belief system, through their values, through the things that they tell themselves in their own mind, this makes sense to me, when I see it through their eyes, without judgment or criticism or blame.” Or that if you did this differently, more like how I do it, you wouldn't have these problems, right? Without that kind of, of condemnation or ridicule. It's just “Yes, I could see why you feel that way.” When I put myself into this, this point in space, if I fast forward through all the years of your life and arrive at this point in time, I would probably feel exactly the same way too. I get it. This makes sense. 

 

And here's the other piece. The way you feel is actually just as important as the way I feel. My feelings are not more important than yours. I might understand my own worldview better than I understand yours and I might be more contact with my feelings and I am in yours. But the way I feel, the things I want, the things I think about, my values are not more important than yours are. They are equally important. 

 

And so this sounds like a simple thing but it is very easy to slip into conflict and just like that waterslide, like shoot down the unhappy path of disconnection. When you begin to believe that your partner is behaving unreasonably, and that they're wrong to think and feel and behave the way that they are, and judge them for it. Empathy is the antidote. Everybody makes sense. Trust me. I have sat with—I can't even tell you how many, hundreds, possibly thousands of people. Some of them are doing things that are surprising or feeling things that are different than other people feel. And I have never in my entire life met a person that when I sat down with them, and didn't like really get a whole story, and all the information and kind of put all the pieces together, that didn't make perfect sense. You make perfect sense, and your partner behaves and makes perfect sense—behaves in a way that makes perfect sense. If they're behaving in a way that doesn't make sense to you, it's because you don't have all the information yet. 

 

Find out the information with empathy, with empathy, without judgment, without criticism, without blame. Because when you understand somebody’s why, things fall into place. And in having this kind of attunement with your partner and being really compassionately accepting of your partner's thoughts and feelings, even if they're different from yours. But when you achieve that level of understanding, all conflict immediately melts away. There's just nothing to argue about. There is only the opportunity to have a deeper connection with your partner that they feel understood and cared about by you. And then you'll have the opportunity to open a door so they can understand your perspective a little bit more deeply. And from that point, all that's left to do is figure out how to solve solvable problems and appreciate and respect each other's differences for the rest of it. Empathy is really important right now. 

Courageous Conversations

Another core skill, if you want to have a growth moment with your partner. This might surprise you, but it's true, to have courageous conversations that might even feel like fights. Let's just reframe those, they're not fights, they are passionate conversations about things that are important to people. A while ago, I did a podcast about how to have difficult conversations that is really geared more towards having productive connecting conversations between two people who might be in very different ideological places or have different values. Because if you don't have those, there is distance and disconnection, and relationships will just wither and evaporate. 

 

And the same holds true for our intimate partnerships. People sometimes erroneously believe that having a healthy relationship or a good relationship is kind of defined by having lack of conflict. “Well, we don't fight, everything's fine,” right? No, if you are not having important, meaningful conversations about important things, you are not having a relationship in some real ways. 

 

Now, there are couples that have worked a lot of stuff out. I mean, my husband and I have been together for—I don't know what year is this, it was sometime in the early 90s, I don't even know. But anyway, a long time, and we've worked out a lot of things. And so we still have courageous conversations from time to time about growth areas. And that is the engine of growth in a relationship. When somebody says, “This is how I feel, and you might not be happy about this, or you might not like what I want, but I have to say it because I have to be authentic with you. And I have to be real with you. And I have to let you into my inner world. This is me. And if I'm not talking about this, you don't really know me. You don't know who I am. And if I'm not hearing about what is important to you and how you really feel it means I don't know you.”

 

And so these conversations can feel challenging sometimes because people can discover that there are areas of their relationship that feel out of alignment. There are differences in values or perspective, or needs or wants or desires. And that is all okay. The goal is not to be exactly on the same page and an alignment about all the things but is to achieve, understanding and respect for each other's differences. And to be talking very openly about what those are, and how you can work together to make this as good as possible for both of you. 

 

Also, courageous conversations are absolutely necessary to be solving and facing the issues of life right now. From how do we communicate about things? How do we work as a team together in our house? “You know what? I did dishes five times today, how many times did you do dishes? None? That is not okay with me.” And it doesn't need to be I'm being more conflictual than I probably would be in real life. But although Matt Bobby could handle it. Because he's actually usually the one that does dishes five times a day, and I'm like, “What's for dinner?” 

 

But that aside, to be able to say, “I have to talk to you about something important. XYZ is not working for me right now. And I want to have a conversation with you about what we can do together to make this feel better for both of us because I am not okay.” And it can be about anything, but it is the conversation that you least want to have is the conversation that you most want to have. It can be very tempting to think about avoiding difficult conversations as not rocking the boat, as being not communicating well, I'm not saying anything about things that really bothered me, and I'm just stuffing it in that bottle until I get more and more resentful until I explode. Let's not do that. Have courageous conversations when things come up because that authenticity around your true thoughts, feeling needs, desires, will help you feel known and be known, you will know your partner. And you'll be able to achieve this deeper understanding and a deeper union, really, through courageous conversations. And couples who don't do this will inevitably grow apart. 

 

I will tell you a secret. One of the most insidious destructive ideas that you can have in your head, that will be the seed of destruction for your relationship is this idea of, “No, I don't want to say anything. It won't change anything. It doesn't matter, we'll just have a fight. No, it's not worth bringing it up. I'm just no, I'm just going to deal with it.” That is the narrative that will land you in a divorce lawyer’s office, that inner narrative in your head is what will become the barrier for the necessary courageous conversations that we all need to have. 

Emotional Safety

Related to this is the deliberate practice of emotional safety. I have also done standalone podcasts on this topic. But as a quick refresher, emotional safety is the primary foundational component of a healthy relationship. It is related to empathy. It is related to kindness and generosity. It's related to communication. It is also related to psychological flexibility. When we are being emotionally safe partners, it is okay for your partner to not be okay sometimes. That means that they can say thoughtless, insensitive things, and you can say, “I don't like the way that sounded but I love you so much. I'm going to give you a redo, try again.” I use that one with my 12 year old son on a fairly regular basis, but it's like, you are not going to explode. You're not going to fall apart. You're not going to criticize. You're not going to reject people. You are being emotionally safe for your partner when they need you. 

 

And that goes both ways that when you're in a high quality relationship where you are feeling emotionally safe, it means that you can be mad sometimes. You cannot feel like talking, you can be you're not best self. You can be imperfect. You can have your own little weird quirks and things and you can feel sad or scared. And it's just that like unconditional positive regard that even if you're not okay, it is emotionally safe for you to be authentic. And to be not always okay that you're loved anyway. 

 

Not that we don't all have a responsibility to do the best we can to bring the best we can to the table like it does require intention, but it's like committing to being a safe person for your partner to talk to, to be empathetic, to be non-judgmental, to try to be kind and generous when someone is sharing their authentic feelings with you, in a way that fosters this feeling of safety, that is not being the fixer, or the solver of the problems or the whatever, it's not that type of safety. It's emotional safety, it's, “I am a safe person for you to be real with. What's going on?” And to have that going both ways in a relationship is I think, what we all really, really need right now, particularly when there's so much going on in the world. 

 

I mean, just this morning, my husband saw something on the news and had a solid, I think four minutes of ranting in the kitchen, about whatever it was like “Ahh!”, smoke actually coming out of his ears and just, and just kind of like, “Yes, that is so messed up. I can understand why you're angry.” As opposed to telling him to calm down or like “think about this instead,” it's like, “Yes, this is bad.” You can do this, too.

Emotional Intelligence

Our next skill, and then I promise, I only have two more, and then we'll be done because it's like a 19-hour podcast. But the next skill is emotional intelligence. This is another core component of a healthy relationship. I am planning a podcast on this topic specifically to come out for you in the next—probably February. But anyway, about how to increase your emotional intelligence. But here's why. Your ability to understand the thoughts and feelings of others, and then respond to them appropriately and effectively depends on not just emotional intelligence, but like the foundation of emotional intelligence, which is the ability to understand and manage your own thoughts and feelings first. 

 

So to have that emotional intelligence is a skill set that allows you to be aware of how you're feeling, regulate it if you need to, have control over your reactions, be able to communicate effectively during times of stress. And it's also related to empathy, not just empathy for others, but also really empathy for ourselves. Particularly under times of stress or disappointment, and by very deliberately building up your own emotional intelligence skills, and working on that part of “Okay, how am I showing up?”, you will immediately see positive results in your relationship. 

 

And so if you feel like you and your partner have been growing apart lately, I would recommend getting real serious about emotional intelligence and working on what you can, which is how you are showing up as—are you being an emotionally safe person? Are you having courageous conversations, that are productive and well intentioned? So not like attacking people, but having honest, important conversations. Are you showing up with empathy? Are you showing up with kindness and generosity? And are you really working on psychological flexibility that allows you to kind of roll with things as opposed to freaking out about all the things like these are all related 

 

And so I want you to also hear that all of the constructs that we've been discussing, hang together. Psychological flexibility is an aspect of emotional intelligence. You can't have kindness and generosity without empathy. Having courageous conversations requires emotional safety. If you are not being emotionally safe—people, yes, your partner is not going to talk to you, because it will be unpleasant, conflictual experience, right? So, these are things that all hang together. 

Remember: Relationships Are Systems

And very lastly, is one last idea, is that people who have healthy, enduring relationships that are made stronger for having gone through difficult times and coming out the other side, have a high degree of awareness for and respect for the fact that your relationships are systems.

 I mean, the successful couples or people with harmonious relationships with their family members know what Family Therapists like me have been preaching for decades, which is that any relationship is more than just two individual people kind of bopping along. A relationship is a system. And that means that people are not just existing independently. Two people in a relationship are reacting to and responding to each other's reactions and responses. So there's like the cyclical thing. Your partner is having reactions to you. And your reactions are in turn what you perceive your partner to be doing or not doing. 

 

So there's this like, cyclical thing. And by understanding that whatever is happening with your partner right now is at least in part influenced by what you are putting into the system. You immediately become empowered to change it. And not by demanding change in your partner and insisting that they change 19 things about yourself, themselves, rather, so that they can be closer to perfection, right? But is to really get very deliberate about, “Okay, what is it like to be in a relationship with me right now? What am I contributing to this relational system? And what adjustments can I make that might help my partner have a better reaction to me?”

 

I know that that can be very difficult to take on board. And I also know—I'll just say this out loud, some relationships are in fact irredeemable. There are such things as narcissists and sociopaths, and people who just can't or won't be emotionally safe or have empathy for others, or have courageous conversations, or have emotional intelligence. Those are realities. I would refer you back to another podcast that I did about when to call it quits in a relationship. Like if you don't know if your partner can do these things with you, time to find out. So listen to that podcast for some advice on how to create that. 

 

I do hope that this honest, courageous conversation that you and I have had together today can provide you with a little bit of a roadmap to help you understand the importance and the significance of this moment for your relationship and can empower you to do everything that you can do in order to help you and your partner grow together right now instead of apart. 

 

If that isn't possible, next week, we're doing a podcast on amicable divorce. So stay tuned. But in the meantime, I do hope this conversation has been helpful. And very lastly, I tell people this all the time, I'll tell the same thing to you. Resources to get this started, you could certainly have your partner listen to this podcast with you, trap them in the car, go on a drive and turn on the podcast. 

 

Also a tool—we offer a free relationship quiz on our website that is super like low-key. It's the How Healthy is Your Relationship quiz. And I think it was growingself.com/relationship-quiz, I'm pretty sure is the URL. You can go on the Growing Self website and Google. Or there's like a search bar on our site. So you can look up different resources. But look up the How Healthy is Your Relationship quiz. And you can take that quiz together. You can take it. Your partner can take it. You won't see each other's answers. But the neat thing is that then you can kind of just come together in a nice emotionally safe space and just compare answers. 

 

For the purpose of yes, sure communicating to your partner how you're feeling, it can kind of get the conversational ball rolling. It also provides some information in the results of the quiz to help kind of orient each of you to like some of what we're talking about and somewhat is different. But like the different domains of your relationship. So you'll see the parts of your relationship that are strengths for both of you, and the parts of your relationship that are growing areas. 

But to have like that be the intention of the conversation like “Okay, let's take this quiz together. And let's just talk about what parts feel like they're working for each of us and then maybe talk about some ways that we could improve how this is feeling for both of us.” 

 

You might be surprised at some of the things that you learn about how your partner is feeling about this relationship. Going back to what we talked about before, that once you have that information, the way they're behaving and feeling will maybe make more sense to you once you have that. So there is a resource for you. 

 

I also just want to say this and again, as I said on previous podcasts including a recent one about discernment counseling, when relationships are strong and healthy, fundamentally—so yes, there are problems and parts that people are not happy with each other about—but fundamentally, people love each other and they want it to work, they're still committed. That is typically when people show up in couples counseling, in relationship coaching. As “We want to make this as good as possible. We're having trouble talking about this, without it sort of disintegrating into an argument. We really want to learn how to do this together, can you help us figure out how to do this together?” Yes! And in those cases, it's usually fairly easy. Like, 4, 6, 8 sessions, we do all this stuff, and teach couples how to do these things and be these things with each other, and they go off on their way. 

 

If you are in a relationship, where you have not been getting these things for months, perhaps years, and you are having really negative relational cycles with your partner. They are refusing to talk to you. There's a lot of hostility and resentment. There are a lot of automatic negative assumptions about each other's motives. There are feelings of hopelessness, almost about their relationship. I just want you to know that this is also not just normal but expected. 

 

If you have been living without kindness and generosity, empathy, psychological flexibility, emotional intelligence, a real dedication to emotional safety—to have a very, very difficult feeling relationship is a predictable outcome of that. And it is still not too late. It does mean that you will probably need the support of a good—and by good I mean, someone with specialized training and experience, look for a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist with a at least a master's degree or a doctorate in marriage, family therapy, and who practices, evidence-based forms of couples’ counseling to help you. It can take a little bit longer to kind of peel this onion and be able to understand each other with empathy and compassion again. It's going to be a little bit of a process. Because what we have to do is really help you to restore your empathy and compassion for each other. 

 

So that it stops feeling like an adversarial thing or like this person is somebody that you don't understand and who doesn't understand you. This can be achieved. It just takes a little bit more time and it takes skilled evidence-based couples counseling, and we do it routinely. I cannot tell you how many couples I've worked with who came in being like, “I do not understand this person and I never will.” And, yes, it took a few months, but at the end of it was like, “Wow, you know what? They're amazing. I can't imagine my life without them.” 

 

So just know that and I hope that that helps you hold on to hope even if it feels like you guys have been drifting away. 

 

Big podcast. I'm going to stop now, and I'll be back in touch with you next week for another episode of the Love, Happiness and Success podcast. Thanks for listening.

 

[More Than Words by Sarah Kang]

 

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